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date: 24 May 2020


A Dictionary of Sociology

John Scott

A contested concept generally applied to actual or suggested violence connected to political aims. It is notoriously difficult to define because ‘terrorism’ may be deployed as a relative, emotive, pejorative, or ideologically driven label. Subjective elements of the ‘terrorism’ label are often conveyed through the terrorist versus freedom fighter maxim. Whilst this notion articulates the moral relativism at stake, a confusion and conflation of the goals and activity of terrorism undermine its conceptual value. Further controversies exist regarding the scant focus on activities of states and their proxies in many conceptions of terrorism. In recent years these debates have led to the emergence of ‘critical terrorism studies’. Drawing from the broader field of critical security studies and the Frankfurt School, and seeking distinction from more ‘orthodox’ studies (e.g. scholarship characterized as working within ‘top-down’ dissident-focused definitions of terrorism), critical terrorism studies place explicit increased attention on the role of the state as an arbitrator of insecurity and violence. (See the edited collection ... ...

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