Explaining revolutionary terrorism

Jeff Goodwin

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have spurred many social scientists toexplore the dynamics of terrorism, most for the first time. Before 9/11, terrorism research was the exclusive preserve, with very few exceptions, of small networks of political scientists and non-academic "security experts," relatively few of whom were interestedin social science heory. Descriptive case studies abound, replete with ad hoc, case-specific explanations of terrorism. Curiously, most scholars of rebellion and revolution, broadly defined, have had virtually nothing of significance to say about terrorism. More generally, the strategic choices of revolutionary movements - of which terrorism is one - have received much less scholarly attention than the causes and consequences of revolutions. To be sure, many scholars have examined the use of terrorism by revolutionaries in power including the Jacobin "reign of terror" and Stalin's show trials and forced collectivization of agriculture - but there has been no systematic study of the use of terrorism byrevolutionary movements that are struggling to take power. In this chapter, I begin with adefinition of terrorism and revolutionary terrorism; I then discuss several extant theories of terrorism, noting their insights and shortcomings; and I outline my own theory of "categorical" terrorism, a type of terrorism that has been employed by revolutionarieswith increasing frequency in recent years. Although my theory requires more rigorous empirical testing than I can provide here, I believe that it helps to explain better than extant approaches why some revolutionary movements, but not others, employ or try to employ a strategy characterized by the use of violence against anonymous civilians or non-combatants. It is terrorism in this sense which today alternately fascinates, repels, and inspires women and men across large parts of the globe.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationRevolution in the Making of the Modern World
    Subtitle of host publicationSocial Identities, Globalization, and Modernity
    PublisherTaylor and Francis
    Number of pages23
    ISBN (Electronic)9781134003266
    ISBN (Print)9780415771825
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2007

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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