Module Details

SC557-7-SP-CO: Critical Perspectives On Terrorism And Counter-Terrorism

Year: 2017/18
Department: Sociology
Essex credit: 20
ECTS credit: 10
Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students: Yes
Full Year Module Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students for a Single Term: No
Outside Option: No

Supervisor: Professor Peter Fussey
Teaching Staff: Prof Pete Fussey
Contact details: Michele Hall, Graduate Administrator, Tel: 01206 873051 Email:

Module is taught during the following terms
Autumn Spring Summer

Module Description

Since 9/11 there has been unprecedented interest in terrorism across political, media and academic discourses. Indeed, regarding the latter, in 2008 The Guardian reported a 23-fold increase in academic articles citing 'terrorism' since 2001. Despite this proliferation of research, analysis and commentary, a number of interconnected problems persist in the study and understanding of terrorism. An axiom in this debate is the notion that the definition of 'terrorism' is highly contested. Often, this is articulated by the simplistic notion of the terrorism versus freedom fighter cliche, which, although this does much to highlight the moral relativism of terrorist action, is close to conceptually useless. This is due to a number of reasons. First, as Weinberg (2005:2) correctly argues, the maxim 'simply confus(es) the goal of terrorism with the activity'. What does this have to say about essentially guerrilla groups that occasionally adopt terrorist tactics, such as the LTTE, for example? Moreover, the terrorist/freedom fighter opposition does little to highlight the diversity of terrorist activity, which is often tied to specific action and thus whether they are deemed justifiable. It fails to grasp the nuances and complexity of 'just causes' that lie beyond mere moral relativism and, crucially the internal complexities and changes in strategies and activities during the evolution of terrorist campaigns. Finally, this relative approach to the definition of terrorism does not account for the role of the state as a terrorist actor. This latter concern has led to the 'emergence' of critical terrorism studies which positions itself against what they perceive to be the orthodox standpoint of much mainstream scholarship on the issue. In particular, critical terrorism scholars point to the state, rather than dissident groups being the principle source of insecurity.

Starting with debates surrounding the definition and discourse of terrorism, this module examines the both the enduring themes and contemporary debates relating to the conceptualisation, commission and control of terrorism. In doing so the module is structured over three main areas of enquiry:


1. Defining and Conceptualising Terrorism
2. Perspectives on Terrorism


3. Political Ideology and Terrorism
4. Animal Rights Extremism
5. Religious extremism: Al Qaeda, violent Islamism and suicide missions


6. Surveillance
7. The war on terror, state crime, and human rights (
8. Policing terrorism, communities and legitimacy
9. Law

Learning and Teaching Methods

Weekly two-hour workshop sessions


100 per cent Coursework Mark


1 essay 5,000 words


  • Hoffman, B (2006) Inside Terrorism, New York: Columbia University Press
  • Vertigans, S. (2011) Sociology of Terrorism: People, Places and Processes, London: Routledge
  • Silke, A. (ed.) (2003) Terrorists, Victims and Society: Psychological Perspectives on Terrorism and its Consequences, Chichester: Wiley.
  • Silke, A. (Ed.). (2004). Research on Terrorism: Trends, Achievements and Failures. London: Frank Cass.
  • Griset P And Mahan, S (2006) Terrorism In Perspective, London: Sage
  • D. Gambetta (ed.) (2005) Making Sense of Suicide Missions, Oxford University Press
  • Richards, A., Fussey, P., and Silke, A. (2010) Terrorism and the Olympics, London: Routledge
  • Innes, M. and Thiel, D. (2008) 'Policing Terror', in T. Newburn (ed) The Handbook of Policing, Second edition. Cullompton: Willan.
  • Fussey, P. (2010) 'An economy of choice? Terrorist decision-making and criminological rational choice theories reconsidered', Security Journal vol. 23
  • Fussey, P. (2007) 'Observing Potentiality in the Global City: Surveillance and Counterterrorism in London', in International Criminal Justice Review, vol.17(3) pp.171-192
  • Martin G, (2009) Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, And Issues London: Sage
  • Fussey, P. (2013) 'Contested Topologies of UK Counter-Terrorist Surveillance: The Rise and Fall of Project Champion' Critical Studies on Terrorism. vol 6(3): 351-370

Further information