Terrorism is often understood to be a cultural phenomenon involving different and competing ideological perceptions of social and political realities. Hence the terrorists themselves, those who fight terrorism, and the mass media all tend to invoke cultural variables to make a sense of violent terrorist actions. In this context one often encounters references to “the clash of civilizations” or “religious wars.” Nevertheless social scientists have largely discredited such simplistic accounts and have made clear that culture plays a much more complex role in terrorism. In this chapter I critically review the three leading cultural and anthropological perspectives on terrorism: the neo-Durkhemian perspectives, interactionism, and the anti-foundationalist approaches. I argue that culturalist perspectives contribute substantially towards understanding of terrorism but they also show some explanatory weaknesses. To remedy these pitfalls I provide an outline for the alternative, longue durée, historical-sociological model of terrorism analysis.
John G. Horgan
As an academic discipline, psychology would appear to be well-suited to the study of terrorist behavior. Terrorism, after all, involves statistically and socially abnormal behavior that is routinely associated with acts of extreme violence. Psychological analysis extends not only to those who engage in acts of terrorism, but to those affected by terrorism both near and far. It seems odd then that psychology has not embraced the study of terrorism in the same way that other disciplines have. This chapter explores the history and development of psychological research on terrorism and reflects on its progress to date before offering modest suggestions for future areas of enquiry. Though psychological research on terrorist behavior, the author argues, remains underdeveloped, the chapter concludes with a sense of optimism about the exciting potential that may be derived from a more fully developed psychology of terrorism.