Ranstrop argues that alongside the definitional issue, the second major problem in terrorism studies is the, “inability to build a cohesive integrated and cumulative theory” (2006, p.4). He was echoing Crenshaw who at the beginning of the decade had stated that “Research on political terrorism, which began in the early 1970s, faces some persistent problems. These involve…building integrative theory” (2000, p.405).
While this may have been true in the past, scholars currently engaged in research are actively involved in attempting to place their efforts within coherent theoretical frameworks. The use of Social Movement Theory (SMT) and resource mobilisation explanations have provided valuable concepts and tools (Ranstrop, 2006, p.9) In relation to the issue of ‘foreign fighters’, Malet (2009), Hafez (2004a, 2004b, 2006a, 2006b, 2009), and Hegghammer (2010a, 2010b) have all sought to embed their research uses tools from this analytical framework. All of them have integrated elements from SMT building on Della Porta’s early work on left-wing terrorists in Italy, to explain, how and why individuals, networks and groups mobilise and recruit for violence. Hafez (2007, pp.16-17) argues that SMT has an advantage in relation to approaches from a single perspective i.e. political, cultural as SMT is interdisciplinary and multi-pronged. He suggests that it is not an overarching theory that will explain all, but rather an approach that provides an analytical framework adapted to dealing with non-state actors and their mobilisation for involvement in conflicts including participation in terrorist activity. Hegghammer in his study of Saudi Arabia also effectively demonstrates the utility of SMT as an analytic tool to understand political violence and terrorism (Hegghammer 2010, p.11). Both Hafez and Hegghammer state that SMT tools allow for three levels of analysis – macro (societal), meso (organisational) and micro (individual) (Hafez, 2010, p.17; Hegghammer, 2010, p.11). Finally, Hafez suggests that a key element in SMT is that it allows explanations of mobilisation outside of state structures to be examined. This is an important advance, as the majority of terrorist activity, has been carried out by non-state actors.
It is evident that one analytical theory or set of tools is not able to explain all that is relevant to terrorism nor to ‘foreign fighters’, nonetheless, it is clear that researchers and scholars have found a theoretical concept useful to them and are deriving studies of interest and value from its use.
Crenshaw, M. (2000). The Psychology of Terrorism: An Agenda for the 21st Century. Political Psychology, 21(2), 405-419.
Hafez, M. M. (2004a). From Marginalization to Massacres: A Political Process Explanation of GIA Violence in Algeria. In Wiktorowicz, Q (Ed.), Islamic Activism: A Social Movement Theory Approach. Indiana Bloomington and Indianapolis:: University Press.
Hafez, M. M. (2004b). Why Muslims Rebel: Repression and Resistance in the Islamic World. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Hafez, M. M. (2006). Suicide Terrorism in Iraq: A Preliminary Assessment of the Quantitative Data and Documentary Evidence. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 29(6), 591-619.
Hafez, M. M. (2009). Jihad after Iraq: Lessons from the Arab Afghans. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 32(2), 73-94.
Hegghammer, T. (2007). Saudi militants in Iraq – backgrounds and recruitment patterns. FFI-rapport 2006/03875. Norwegian Defence Research Establishment.
Hegghammer, T. (2008). Saudis in Iraq: Patterns of Radicalization and Recruitment. Cultures & Conflits.
Hegghammer, T. (2010a). Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism since 1979. Cambridge University Press.
Hegghammer, T. (2010b). The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters: Islam and the Globalization of Jihad. International Security, 35(3), 53-94.
Malet, D. (2010). Why Foreign Fighters? Orbis., 48(1), 97.
Malet, D. (2009). Foreign fighters: Transnational identity in civil conflicts. (Doctoral Dissertation. Georgetown, Washington D.C.)
Ranstrop, M. (2006). Mapping terrorism research: state of the art, gaps, and future directions. London: Routledge.
For more on Social Movement Theory and its use in relation to political violence and terrorism see also
Beck, C.J. (2008). The Contribution of Social Movement Theory to Understanding Terrorism, Sociology Compass 2/5, pp.1565–1581.
Della la Porta, D. (2009) Social Movement Studies and Political Violence, Presentation at Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation (CIR)
Khosrokhavar, F. (2009) Jihadism in Europe and the Middle East, Presentation at Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation (CIR)
Olesen, T. (2009) Social Movement Theory and Radical Islamic Activism, Presentation at Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation (CIR)
Mobilization is a review of research about social and political movements, strikes, riots, protests, insurgencies, revolutions, and other forms of contentious politics. Its goal is to advance the systematic, scholarly, and scientific study of these phenomena, and to provide a forum for the discussion of methodologies, theories, and conceptual approaches across the disciplines of sociology, political science, social psychology, and anthropology. In recognition of the growing interconnectedness of the international community of social movement scholars, of the globalization of protest and protest repertoires, and of the need for crossnational comparison for theoretical advance, Mobilization is an international journal that encourages contributions and subscriptions from the global community of scholars.
The Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation. The centre is established at the Department of Political Science at the University of Aarhus. The Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation was established in April 2008 under the auspices of the Department of Political Science, University of Aarhus.The Centre has its research focus on the three main pillars: radicalisation, ideologies and the international consequences of Islamism. The Centre for Studies in Islamism and Radicalisation will assemble anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists and theologians, who can contribute to the understanding of what happens when Islam becomes a political ideology with the objective of overthrowing Governments. For a more detailed description see the specifically the document here