Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The state of research on terrorism

During the 1980s and early 2000s, authors like Alex Schmid and Andrew Silke demonstrated the paucity of first-hand insights being used to study terrorism and the consequences this had for the reliability of the findings beings presented. But to what extent have these issues endured?

Duration
2015  -   2018
Contact
Bart Schuurman

Research on terrorism began in the 1960s and 1970s and grew exponentially after the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing ‘war on terror’. As the terrorist threat has endured to the present day, so has research on this subject remained plentiful. Unfortunately, the quantity of publications on terrorism is considerable, there are decades-old concerns about the quality of much of this work. While the ongoing definitional debate on what precisely terrorism is will be familiar to many, an arguably no less serious problem has been the scarcity of primary sources and the overreliance on literature-review based methodologies. During the 1980s and early 2000s, authors like Alex Schmid and Andrew Silke demonstrated the paucity of first-hand insights being used to study terrorism and the consequences this had for the reliability of the findings beings presented. But to what extent have these issues endured?

To address this question, Schuurman developed a dataset on all the 3.500 articles published in the nine leading academic journals on terrorism between 2007 and 2016. Data collection took place between late 2015 and 2018, facilitated by the help provided by several interns and research assistants. The results have been published in two journal articles. The first, in Terrorism & Political Violence, demonstrates that the long-standing overreliance on secondary sources has finally abated but that there remain very few dedicated terrorism scholars, with most publications being the work of one-timers. The second piece is out in Critical Studies on Terrorism and surveys the topics that have been researched in this decade. It shows that there remains an overemphasis on jihadism and a mirroring of states’ interests or concerns with regard to terrorism and counterterrorism. The field still has a way to go before it can develop its own independent research priorities.

Connection with other research

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