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Article

Alexandra Campbell

As a discipline, criminology tends to treat terrorism as an objective phenomenon, to be mapped, explained, and managed. Scholars informed by more critical strains of the discipline, however, argue that orthodox criminology is reductive and uncritical. Relying on normative definitions of terrorism, orthodox analyses reproduce assumptions of powerful institutions, thus collaborating and furthering a system of social control marked by increased authoritarianism. Cultural, critical, and constitutive criminologies call for a more politically engaged criminology, which recognizes that power is inherent to knowledge production. How terrorism is socially constructed and framed is of primary significance, since terrorism is not a given, ontological fact, but rather a power inhered designation. The framing of terrorism through multiple, intersecting, discursive systems impacts radically how we make sense of the world. Cultural discourses (including media representations) intersect with and reinforce other institutional narratives, giving rise to a dominant script, which provides us with a framework for understanding terror. Examining the cultural and social discourses that constitute this script is not an end point; rather, it is a way into cultural power. It is a means to critically assess cultural myths and ideological frames that are crucial in shaping our perceptions of safety and security, victims and perpetrators, and more. Cultural meanings work their way into our consciousness, engendering a framework for interpreting events and identities, compelling us to understand the world in particular ways, obliging us to consent to real world policies. Much of the analysis in this vein examines the representation of terrorism and counter-terrorism through Edward Said’s lens of Orientalism. This approach highlights the ways in which terrorism has come to be conflated with Muslim identity, while it also highlights the binary structuring of this “Muslim as terrorist” script, which creates dualistic categories of us versus other, rational versus irrational, modernity versus anti-modernity, and so on. These binaries create essentialized visions of Islam and Muslims as chaotic, violent, and disorderly, who pose an apocalyptic threat to the West. Imagined as Islam’s binary opposite, the West is framed as being perilously at risk from an entire category of people who are discursively transformed into essentialized suspect communities. These framings come to be institutionalized in the form of anti-terror policies and practices. As an example, the War on Terrorism slogan and the accompanying Orientalist imagery of the Muslim terrorist, was integral to lending legitimacy to international military action, the detentions in Guantanamo Bay, the use of torture, and more, post-9/11. Prevailing framings—dehumanizing and devoid of real context—were the scaffolding on which such policies and practices could be built. Indeed, undergirding the ever-increasing nexus of authoritarian, repressive counter-terrorism measures, is a cultural repertoire of Orientalist meanings that provide the cultural conditions necessary for us to consent to increasing social control. The material and often-brutal consequences of these policies are felt most keenly by those who are caught in the expansive, amorphous category of “Other.” This suffering is largely out of the frame, and instead, we are invited to think of the state response as a logical and necessary step to ensure our safety. Understanding how abstract discourse comes to be embedded in institutional practice is crucial if criminologists are to take seriously the question of (in)justice. This necessitates resisting the troubling dominant discourses that frame terrorism, and it means that we must reflexively be aware of our own role in perpetuating “knowledge” and a cultural climate within which real people suffer.

Article

Cecil Greek

Gothic criminology was developed in the first decade of the 21st century as a postmodern theoretical model, incorporating elements from key criminological/sociological texts and themes embedded in various literature and film genres, with the goal of highlighting the continued existence of monstrous evil in its various modern permutations. As developed by Caroline (Kay) S. Picart and Cecil Greek, the perspective has been used to compare reel and real-world criminal activity, including, for example, male serial killers (metaphorically depicted as vampires), female serial killers such as Eileen Wuornos, dirty cops (interpreted as Golem), suicidal terrorists, societal responses to chaos-induced contemporary global evil (the Behemoth), and supernatural malevolent forces taking possession of human bodies. The potential usefulness of the theory in explaining other expressions of dystopic societal deviance and crime appears to be expanding.

Article

The unofficial War on Terror that began in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States expanded a wide range of formal social controls as well as more informal methods of punitive control that were disproportionately directed toward Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners, and those who were perceived to be. Although terrorism had been racialized long before 9/11, this event galvanized American support for sweeping new policies and practices that specifically targeted racial and ethnic minorities, particularly those who were immigrants. New agencies and prisons were created, individual rights and civil liberties were restricted, and acts of hate and discrimination against those who were racially, ethnically, and religiously stereotyped as potential terrorists increased. Although research shows that most domestic terrorism is not perpetrated by Muslims, Arabs, or those originating from the Middle East, the racialized stereotype of terrorists had a major impact on how the War on Terror was executed and how its implementation affected members of certain minority groups in the United States.

Article

The themes of terrorism and counter-terrorism have infused the America media’s cultural production for several decades. These popular culture products were designed first for consumption by domestic audiences but also for export to audiences throughout the world, quickly assuming a role in US cultural imperialism. Much of this production took the form of news reports about political turmoil, sectarian violence and liberation, independence or nationalist movements—almost always occurring “somewhere else” in the world. Still others appeared as fictional narratives embedded within diverse entertainment genres such as political thrillers, war, sci-fi, romance and suspense, sometimes in a lifeworld that paralleled that of the domestic audience. But more often than not this production took the form of lifeworlds mimicking foreign lands, mythical pasts, or dystopian futures. Popular culture’s tales of terrorism and counter-terrorism maintained this relatively stable pattern for much of the last quarter of the 20th century. Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks against the United States on 11 September 2001 considerably impacted that narrative pattern, and while not fundamentally changing the script, this attack resulted in significant rewrites. To begin, the portrayal of terrorism and the War on Terror, both real and fictionalized, became the central theme in a great deal of popular culture, including television programs, feature films, PC/video games, YouTube videos, advertisements, popular music, and of course, the news. These mediated texts—in essence, stories that the US cultural industries tell about terrorism and the state’s attempts to fight it—reconstituted the social reality of terrorism and counter-terrorism. In the immediate aftermath of al-Qaeda’s attacks, the American cultural industries increasingly served as a conduit for US hegemony, both at home and abroad. While there is a long history of arm’s-length cooperation between the state and the entertainment industry in the production of popular culture products that can be traced back to the early 1930s, the immediate post-9/11 period heralded an era of not only more terrorism and counter-terrorism narratives but also narratives whose content changed incrementally (but ultimately markedly) largely as a result of the state’s direct involvement in crafting them. Chief among the changes was the streamlining of a narrative that emphasized the growing ubiquity of terrorist threats to the American people on US soil. Indeed, in the lifeworlds created by post-9/11 popular culture, terrorism and counter-terrorism are no longer things that happen primarily or exclusively elsewhere. America’s business interests abroad, its embassies and military installations, are no longer the only likely targets of terrorist activity. These traditional targets have been augmented by many others, including iconic buildings in major cities, national monuments, and critical infrastructure—as well as by more mundane parts of the US landscape, such as schools, sports stadiums, amusement parks, and shopping malls. Like that espoused by the state, the culture industries’ narrative is clear; no one is safe from terrorism. Predictably, the narrative shift that amplified the danger, barbarism, and proliferation of the terrorist threat was complimented by one which aggrandized the counter-terrorist efforts of the United States. In popular culture’s various lifeworlds counter-terrorism strategies, no matter how extreme, are understood as reasonable and legitimate. The narratives, comprised almost wholly of fetishized presentations of military, national security, and law enforcement agents with state- of-the-art weaponry dispatching terrorists with deadly force, provide virtually no political or socio-historical context and offer no alternative to resolving conflicts other than the unfettered use of state violence. As such, popular culture’s presentation of terrorism and counter-terrorism serves to provide the resolution that the real-world War on Terror promised but did not deliver, while at the same time contributing to a narrative that demands its continuation.

Article

Imtashal Tariq and Laura Sjoberg

“Women” who engage in “violent extremism” are often portrayed in ways that disassociate femininity from agency in violence, sensationalize the violence that women do commit, and manipulate traits associated with femininity to portray women’s violence as femininity gone wrong. The study of “women” and “violent extremism” suffers on a variety of levels. First, both the category of “women” and the label of “violent extremism” are definitionally fraught, political, and politicized. Second, there are gendered obstructions to recovering and representing histories of women’s engagement in violent extremism that make learning about the extent of the relevant behavior difficult at best. Third, both existing theories themselves and the existing contours of the enterprise of theorizing “women” and “violent extremisms” make the project of figuring out why “women” commit “violent extremist” acts both difficult and problematic. But why “women” engage in “violent extremism” is only an interesting question if you believe that women necessarily have something in common. Otherwise, why “women” engage in any given behavior is not any different than why people engage in that same behavior. We argue that, rather than focusing on a causal relationship between an essentialist understanding of gender and a politicized understanding of “violent extremism,” it is more productive to think about the role that gender plays in shaping “violent extremism,” conceptually and as it is practiced across a wide variety of groups and locations around the world. “Violent extremism” is indeed gendered, just not in the simple way where some generic motivation can be assigned to the participation of “women” therein.

Article

Children are often the most vulnerable victims of war. In some cases, they are also among the perpetrators of violence. Child soldiers and child terrorists are simultaneously victims and victimizers, in some ways symbolizing the depravity and desperation of modern warfare as it is practiced in many parts of the world. Children’s roles as combatants are even more concerning when the children are very young. How do children come to fill these positions? Why do children join armed groups, and why do armed groups seek to employ children? In fact, children become militants for various reasons, most of which have little to do with “choice.” While some youths choose violence, many children’s options are limited by the contexts in which they live, their socialization or the conditioning they receive, and the cruel and coercive tactics used by armed groups, which include kidnapping and force. Armed groups employ children for their own benefit, and although children may appear weak and unskilled, they also offer unique strategic advantages to the groups employing them. Children are, by some estimates, easier to control, cheaper to employ, and easier to replace than their adult counterparts. The implications of childhood soldiering and children’s involvement in terrorism include ongoing warfare and conflict in places with weak or failed states, where societies are already struggling. The violence is particularly harsh on civilian populations, the primary targets of the violence of weak armed groups. Populations suffer displacement and poverty, and their children remain at risk of recruitment, lost lives, and lost futures.

Article

Badi Hasisi, Simon Perry, and Michael Wolfowicz

Over the last few decades, one of the most pressing issues for governments, societies, and the law enforcement agencies that serve and protect them has been the threat of terrorism. Given that these changes represent a relatively new area for police, it is important to understand how terrorism is best policed and what approaches, strategies, and tactics are most effective. While the evidence base is still in its developmental stages, the evidence that does exist suggests that proactive policing strategies already employed against other forms of crime are the most useful and effective for policing terrorism. Policing efforts that focus on high concentrations of crimes at places (“hotspots”), or among the high-risk offenders, and employ problem-solving perspectives and use community-based strategies show consistent evidence of effectiveness and improving relations between the police and the public. Based on this evidence, policing agencies that undertake proven, proactive strategies toward policing terrorism are better able to incorporate their new role and focus within their broader law enforcement functions. By doing so, policing agencies can expand their role and function in a way that draws on their experience and strengths, rather than “reinventing the wheel” and overstretching resources. Additionally, policing agencies from different countries can draw on their own experience and local knowledge in dealing with other forms of crime, as well as the experience of other agencies and countries, in order to develop a comprehensive and multidimensional approach to policing terrorism.

Article

Vincenzo Ruggiero

Political violence includes an array of conducts and events that defy unilateral examination. It may be authorized or unauthorized violence, and while the latter is almost always associated with crime, the former is normally deemed an expression of the legitimate monopoly in the use of force characterizing modern societies. There are institutional and anti-institutional forms of political violence, namely violence of the authority and violent expressions of defiance against authority. Both have been the object of analysis by sociologists and criminologists, with some contending that theories of “common” violence should be applied to the analysis of political violence. It is assumed, for example, that both types of violence possess a goal-directed character: achieving results, extracting something of value from others, or exercising justice by punishing wrongdoers. Other analysts, however, link political violence with social conflict derived from collective grievance around inequality and injustice, thus locating this type of violence within the tradition of social movement analysis and the dynamics of collective action. Conflict theory provides a prime framework for this type of analysis, which focuses on contentious issues, organizational matters, and the shaping of identities that lead aggrieved groups to turn to violence. Sociological and criminological theories also offer a rich analytical patrimony that helps focusing on political crime committed by states and their representatives occupying powerful social positions. Many contributions, in this respect, cover atrocities perpetrated by institutional actors and the different forms of conscious, unconscious, personal, cultural, or official denial accompanying such atrocities. The term political crime, therefore, ends up relating to state crime, political and administrative corruption, and a variety of crimes of the elite normally included under the umbrella definition “the crimes of the powerful.” Conversely, when the focus moves onto political violence perpetrated by anti-institutional or non-state actors, the term “terrorism” is usually referred to, a term that is not likely to meet universal acceptance or unquestioned adoption due to the difficulties social scientists find in defining it. In sum, political violence and crime present scholars and practitioners with the same ambiguity that connotes definitions of social behavior and the processes of its criminalization. Such ambiguity becomes clear if, as proposed in the following pages, political violence and crime are examined through multidisciplinary lenses, particularly those offered by social theory, philosophy, and political science, along with criminology.

Article

Since the attacks of 9/11, research on radicalization has burgeoned. Most theories of radicalization postulate multiple pathways to radicalization, grievance as a major radicalizing force, emotion rather than ideology precipitating radicalization, and small-group dynamics contributing to radicalization. Empirical data have consistently supported the distinction between activism and radicalism and between radical opinion and radical action. Research into the special category of the radical actor, or lone attackers, uncovered two possible profiles: disconnected-disordered and caring-compelled, each motivated by a kind of disordered emotional state. Internet and social media have amplified and broadened radicalization of both opinion and action. Extrapolating from these findings to the recent increase in right-wing radicalization, a new definition of radicalization is proposed, suggesting a shift in researchers’ and policymakers’ focus from identifying instances of radicalization to identifying its causes. In this conceptual view, radicalization is a result of perceived widespread injustice, where shared narratives highlight grievances (radicalization of opinion) and motivate a few to act against perceived perpetrators (radicalization of action). Implications for research and policy are discussed.

Article

Situational crime prevention is radically different from other forms of crime prevention as it seeks only to reduce opportunities for crime, not bring about lasting change in criminal or delinquent dispositions. Proceeding from an analysis of the circumstances giving rise to very specific kinds of crime and disorder, it introduces discrete managerial and environmental modifications to change the opportunity structure for those crimes to occur—not just the immediate physical and social settings in which the crimes occur, but also the wider societal arrangements that make the crimes possible. It is therefore focused on the settings for crime, not on delinquents or criminals. Rather than punishing them or seeking to eliminate criminal dispositions through improvement of society or its institutions, it tries to make criminal action less attractive. It does this in five main ways: (1) by increasing the difficulties of crime, (2) by increasing the immediate risks of getting caught, (3) by reducing the rewards of offending, (4) by removing excuses for offending, and (5) by reducing temptations and provocations. It accomplishes these ends by employing an action research methodology to identify design and management changes that can be introduced with minimum social and economic costs. Central to this enterprise is not the criminal justice system but a host of public and private organizations and agencies—schools, hospitals, transit systems, shops and malls, manufacturing businesses and phone companies, local parks and entertainment facilities, pubs and parking lots—whose products, services, and operations spawn opportunities for a vast range of different crimes. Some criminologists believe that the efforts that these organizations and agencies have made in the past 20 or 30 years to protect themselves from crime are responsible for the recorded crime drops in many countries. Situational crime prevention rests on a sound foundation of criminological theories—routine activity theory, crime pattern theory, and the rational choice perspective—all of which hold that opportunity plays a part in every form of crime or disorder. There is therefore no form of crime that cannot be addressed by situational crime prevention. To date, more than 250 evaluated successes of situational crime prevention have been reported, covering an increasingly wide array of crimes including terrorism and organized crimes. Many of the studies have found little evidence that situational interventions have resulted in the “displacement” of crime to other places, times, targets, methods, or forms of crime. Indeed, it is commonly found that the benefits of situational crime prevention diffuse beyond the immediately targeted crimes. Despite these successes, situational crime prevention continues to attract much criticism for its supposed social and ethical costs.

Article

Ray Surette

The term “copycat crime” implies that the root of a crime can be found in exposure to a live model or media content concerning a prior crime. The four basic components of a copycat crime are a “generator crime” (a media portrayal of a crime or a real-world crime that is the precursor of a subsequent crime), “criminogenic models” (media content or real-world offenders that portray a subsequently copied crime), “copycat criminal” (an individual who commits a crime after being influenced by criminogenic media content, live models, or a combination of the two), and “copycat crime” (a crime whose occurrence or form is influenced by prior exposure to media content and/or live criminal models). The linked crimes are seen as sharing a unique criminogenic dynamic with the first crime serving as a generator for later copycat crimes with substantial elements of the first crime present in the second. The premise of copycat crime is that exposure to a generator crime is the linking mechanism and that the removal of the exposure would eliminate the occurrence or form of the subsequent copycat crime. There is no theory of copycat crime, but there are four theoretical perspectives that are pertinent. Under the first perspective, imitation has been examined as a general human behavior within biology and psychology. The second perspective, social contagion, studies imitation in collective groups with a focus on the life cycle of crime waves. The third perspective is the study of the diffusion of social innovations and focuses on the factors that encourage adoption of a new, socially accepted and advocated behavior. In diffusion research, criminal behaviors have not been a major consideration. The final theoretical perspective is social learning theory, which focuses on how humans learn new behaviors in social settings. Despite the attention of these four research streams, research on copycat crime has not been extensive. One reason for the deficiency is the difficulty in identifying copycat crimes. Whereas other crimes are relatively straightforward to quantify and are routinely tallied in official law enforcement statistics, copycat crimes are not counted in any systematic way. Copycat crime has traditionally been conceived within an emphasis on direct exposure to live person-to-person models. The media as a source of crime models has historically been downplayed. As the media evolved in the 20th century the study of mediated copycat crime models ascended so that the dominant contemporary view of copycat crime is that of media-sourced transmissions. Copycat crimes are today linked to literature, movies, television shows, music, video games, and print and television news, but despite concern and a large number of studies of violent media’s relationship to social aggression, the rigorous study of copycat crime has lagged. At this time, copycat effects are felt to be relatively rare and are most likely to appear in at-risk individuals predisposed to crime and in preexisting criminal populations. The effect of the media is thought to be more qualitative (affecting criminal behavior) than quantitative (affecting the number of criminals). Whether copycat crime effects influence any particular individual depends on the interaction of the content of a particular media product (its characterizations of crime and criminals), the individual’s predispositions toward crime (personal criminal history, family, and environmental factors), and the media’s social context (preexisting cultural norms toward crime, crime opportunities, and nature of the mass media). The most likely individual to be a copycat offender is hypothesized to be a socially isolated but criminally confident offender who is exposed to multiple live criminal models and has immersed themselves in criminogenic media.

Article

Timothy O. Lenz

The media inform the public about crime while also reflecting and shaping thinking about crime. The news media primarily provide information when they report on crime as part of the coverage of public affairs, but they also shape thinking about crime. The entertainment media, particularly television and film crime stories, primarily entertain audiences, but they also reflect and shape public opinion about the threat of crime, the causes of crime, criminal justice policies, and the criminal justice system. The media effect on the general public’s thinking about crime includes both the news media and the entertainment media because the trends toward infotainment in the news media (e.g., docudramas and true crime reality shows) and realism in the crime genre (stories that are based on or inspired by actual events) have blurred the distinction between fact and fiction. The study of ideology in the crime genre includes the development of theories; empirical analyses of the media effect; explaining ideology, film, and television crime stories as legal texts explaining criminal procedure; and the exploration of current issues related to thinking about rights, law, violence, and justice.

Article

Since 2001, unprecedented resources have been invested in research into global terrorism, resulting in a dramatic rise in the number of academic publications on the topic. Works by scholars from predominantly quantitative disciplines predominate in this literature, and the unfolding development of data science and big data research has accentuated the trend. Many researchers in global terrorism created event databases, in which every row represents a distinct terrorist attack and every column a variable (e.g., the date and location of the attack, the number of casualties, etc.). Such event data are usually extracted from news sources and undergo a process of coding—the translation of unstructured text into numerical or categorical values. Some researchers collect and code their data manually; others use an automated script, or combine the efforts of humans and software. Other researchers who use event data do not collect and process their data at all; rather, they analyze other scholars’ databases. Academics and practitioners have relied on such databases for the cross-regional study of terrorism, analyzing their data statistically in an attempt to identify trends, build theories, predict future incidents, and formulate policies. Unfortunately, event data on terrorism often suffer from substantial issues of accuracy and reproducibility. A comparison between the data on suicide terrorism in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in two of the most prominent databases in the field and an independent database of confirmed events reveals the magnitude of these problems. Among the most common pitfalls for event data are replication problems (the sources that the databases cite, if there are any at all, cannot be retrieved), selection bias (events that should have been included in the database are not in it), description bias (the details of events in the database are incorrect), and coding problems (for example, duplicate events). Some of these problems originate in the press sources that are used to create the databases, usually English-language newspaper articles, and others are attributable to deficient data-gathering and/or coding practices on the part of database creators and coders. In many cases, these researchers do not understand the local contexts, languages, histories, and cultures of the regions they study. Further, many coders are not trained in qualitative methods and are thus incapable of critically reading and accurately coding their unstructured sources. Overcoming these challenges will require a change of attitude: truly accurate and impactful cross-regional data on terrorism can only be achieved through collaboration across projects, disciplines, and fields of expertise. The creators of event databases are encouraged to adopt the high standards of transparency, replicability, data-sharing, and version control that are prevalent in the STEM sciences and among software developers. More than anything, they need to acknowledge that without good and rigorous qualitative work during the stage of data collection, there can be no good quantitative work during the stage of data analysis.