Terrorism and Modern Society - SOCI8250

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2021 to 2022
Spring Term 7 20 (10) Simon Cottee checkmark-circle


This module explores key issues, debates and controversies in the cross-disciplinary study of terrorism and political violence. Since 9/11, terrorism and jihadist violence in particular has become one of the most contentious and politically charged issues of our time. Yet it remains poorly understood, in part because of the contention and consequent polarization surrounding it, but also because of the methodological challenges in researching the individuals and groups involved in terrorist activity. One of the core aims of the module is to help shed a light on the challenges - methodological, practical and ethical - of researching an issue saturated in danger, secrecy and stigma.

What is terrorism and how should it best be defined? Why does the term "terrorism" carry such a potent stigma? What are the master cultural and intellectual narratives for thinking about terrorism and terrorists?

Does it make sense to talk of "the terrorist" as a category of person, and what are the problems inherent in efforts to "profile" those who engage in terrorism? What do terrorists and terrorist groups want? Is terrorism rational? What is suicide bombing and what explains it? How do terrorist rhetorically frame the use of violence against civilians? What is ISIS and is it Islamic? What is radicalization and how should it be conceptualized? Can terrorism ever be morally justified?

The purpose of this module is to provide a framework for thinking about these and other crucial questions about terrorism and political violence.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 22
Private study hours: 178
Total study hours: 200


Normally runs in the Spring term (term 2)

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods
Coursework essay (5,000 words) – 100%

Reassessment methods
100% coursework

Indicative reading

Abrahms, Max (2006), "Why Terrorism Does Not Work," International Security, 31 (2).
- (2008), “What Terrorists Really Want: Terrorist Motives and Counterterrorism Strategy,” International Security 32(4).
Bandura, Albert (1990), “Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement,” in Walter Reich, ed., Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind. Washington: The Woodrow Wilson Centre Press.
Coady, C. A. J. (2004a), “Defining Terrorism,” in Igor Primoratz, ed., Terrorism: The Philosophical Issues. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Cottee, Simon, (2017), “Religion, Crime and Violence,” in A. Liebling, L. McAra and S. Maruna, eds., Oxford Handbook of Criminology. Oxford University Press.
- (2016), “'What ISIS Really Wants' Revisited: Religion Matters in Jihadist Violence, But How?”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 40 (6).
Cottee, S. and Hayward, K.J. (2011), “Terrorist (E)motives: The Existential Attractions of Terrorism,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 34:963-986.
Crenshaw, Martha (1981), “The Causes of Terrorism,” Comparative Politics 13(4).
Gambetta, Diego (ed.), Making Sense of Suicide Missions. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hegghammer, Thomas (ed.) (2017), Jihadi Culture: The Art and Social Practices of Militant Islamists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Horgan, John (2004), “The Case for Firsthand Research,” in Andrew Silke, ed., Research on Terrorism: Trends Achievements and Failures (London: Frank Cass).
Juergensmeyer, Mark. (2001), Terror in the Mind of God. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Neumann, Peter (2013), “The trouble with radicalization,” International Affairs, 89 (4), 873–893.
O’Brien, Conor Cruise (1986), “Thinking about Terrorism,” The Atlantic Monthly, June
Sageman, Marc (2004), Understanding Terror Networks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Silke, Andrew (ed.) (2004), Research on Terrorism: Trends Achievements and Failures (London: Frank Cass, 2004),
Wood, Graeme (2015), “What ISIS Really Wants,” The Atlantic, March.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes are as follows. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1.Critique to a level appropriate with postgraduate study the key concepts associated with the sociology of fear and terror;
2.Critically evaluate a range of theoretical accounts of terrorism and political crime;
3.Analyse and critique the functions of terrorism in variety of different social contexts;
4.Critically evaluate the social, political and cultural (including in many cases the religious) dimensions of some of the main terrorist movements (both contemporary and historical);
5.Illustrate an advanced ability to situate terrorist and extremist action within the context of complex contemporary social theoretical debates about modernity;
6.Locate the changing nature of terrorist action (including introductions to the concepts of 'cyber-terrorism' and 'hyper-terrorism'), and the key concepts associated with the sociology of fear and terror against the back drop of social theoretical debates about late modernity.

The intended generic learning outcomes are as follows. On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
1.Demonstrate skills commensurate with postgraduate study in presentation and debate, both verbal and written, and in utilization of research and empirical data.
2.Be able to synthesis complex theoretical items of knowledge from different schools and disciplines of enquiry
3.Be able to gather library and web-based resources appropriate for postgraduate study; make critical judgments about their merits and use the available evidence to construct a developed argument to be presented orally or in writing.
4.Be able to synthesize and evaluate complex knowledge and theoretical material from different schools and disciplines of enquiry


  1. Credit level 7. Undergraduate or postgraduate masters level module.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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