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date: 23 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

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.

Keywords: terrorism, cultural perspectives, interactionism, anti-foundationalism, neo-Durkhemian approaches, violent narratives

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