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PhD defence

The Aftermath: Meaning-making after terrorist attacks in Western Europe

  • J.H. de Roy van Zuijdewijn
Wednesday 1 September 2021
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden

Western Europe has been confronted with several terrorist attacks over the past years. This dissertation investigates what happens after such attacks. Scholars emphasise that terrorism is not just about killing, as terrorists want to capture the attention of an audience and use attacks to achieve this. Yet, what these audiences do after attacks has remained understudied.

This dissertation looks into the meaning-making process after jihadist attacks in Brussels, Nice, Berlin and Manchester (2016-2017). The study focuses on two core actor groups—the authorities and citizens–and how they use frames, rituals and symbols as part of their meaning-making efforts. Special attention is paid to the first day, the first week and around the first anniversary of the attack, for which the author has visited the commemorations.

The cases were characterised by different patterns in meaning-making, for instance relating to solidarity or polarisation between societal groups, or the cooperation between actors in organising meaning-making efforts. Despite such differences, the four cases showed similarities on a more fundamental level. After performing the opening acts, the terrorists were quickly pushed off stage, doomed to stand behind the curtains and watch a different play unfold. Overall, this dissertation argues that terrorism is not a successful violent communication strategy, which has important implications for our understanding of this form of political violence that makes headlines almost on a daily basis.


  • Prof. E. Bakker

PhD dissertations

PhD dissertations by Leiden PhD students are available digitally after the defence through the Leiden Repository, that offers free access to these PhD dissertations. Please note that in some cases a dissertation may be under embargo temporarily and access to its full-text version will only be granted later.

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