Research Approaches to Terrorism: A Way Forward for New Zealand

Authors: Barnett, E. & Nelson, N. R.1

Published in National Security Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2019

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The study of contemporary terrorism is a complex issue that has been largely neglected as an academic pursuit in New Zealand. This, however, is likely to change following the tragic events in Christchurch on 15 March 2019. But how is this new research best undertaken? This article compares two key approaches to researching terrorism: the traditional, or orthodox, approach; and the critical terrorism studies approach. While each approach has its strengths and weaknesses, this article posits that more productive interaction between government agencies and academics will allow both approaches to be pursued which, in turn, offers the opportunity to more effectively address the threat that terrorism poses to New Zealand in both the short and the long term.

Keywords: New Zealand, Terrorism, Research, Traditional Terrorism Studies, Orthodox Terrorism Studies, Critical Terrorism Studies

The contemporary study of terrorism as a distinct subject began in the late 1960s and the field quickly grew and established itself. From the early 1970s a group of recognised ‘terrorism experts’ emerged; new research centres were established; and a body of literature began to be published, including in newly established specialist terrorism journals.1

What was gradually increasing interest exploded into the mainstream following Al-Qaeda’s attacks on 11 September 2001. Following the attacks the subject of terrorism received a considerable increase in funding and resourcing, which naturally led to a significant increase in research and literature on the topic.2 Much of this research, largely as a consequence of its origins, was driven by state counter-terrorism priorities and, as such, it adopted a problem solving approach to produce knowledge for policy purposes.3 This approach has become known as the traditional, or orthodox,

1 Eamonn Barnett is a postgraduate student at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at Massey University. Nick Nelson is a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at Massey University, email: