Terrorism and Political Violence

The bulk of research on terrorism over the past decade has focused on either individual level factors or larger structure factors responsible for generating and sustaining political violence.  By contrast, I am interested in the organizational correlates of political violence and terrorism.  In order to investigate terrorism at this level, I am constructing a database that traces the birth and development of the most active terrorist organizations over the last twenty years.  All information in the database comes from open sources.  The systematic qualitative information in the dataset allows us to identify key similarities, as well as important variation, in groups that engage in terrorist attacks.  While my work with this data remains preliminary, the data do show that organizational-level analysis—particularly that which focuses on dynamic processes—may add substantially to our understanding of political violence today.  

I introduced this data in 2010 in Boston (at the annual meetings of the Eastern Sociological Society) and in Gothenberg, Sweden (at the International Sociological Association Congress).  

I have published several short pieces based on background work for this project, including a review of the 9/11 Commission Report (Contexts 4(2), 2005: 60-62) and a concise overview of terrorism as a concept (Contexts 7(4), 2008:  74-75).

I have also conducted related research with colleague Bayliss Camp at Sacramento State University on airport security screening.  We have conducted several surveys on the subjective experiences of those going through the screening process.  On the basis of this original data-- as well as a variety of secondary data-- we have concluded that the airport security screening process is best understood as a political ritual that routinizes the exercise of political power and ultimately serves to depoliticize the terrorism issue. 

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