Research Approaches to Terrorism: A Way Forward for New Zealand

Authors: Barnett, E. & Nelson, N. R.
Published in National Security Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2019

confront problems through simplifying them and fixing limitations or parameters to the issue. He argues that by doing this it is possible to reach statements and regularities that can be useful when considered within the context of the limitations. Further to this, Gunning,27 again endorsing a more critical approach, argues that because the problem-solving approach does not constantly question itself and operates within fixed constraints, it can “offer very practical advice where ‘critical’ perspectives often struggle to go beyond critique”. Where it can offer practical advice, the approach can also offer practical benefits. One such benefit is that because orthodox studies relies so heavily on the analysis of sec­ondary data28 it expends significantly less effort and resources to obtain primary data, a considerable advantage within a field where it can be notoriously difficult to obtain raw information.29

Notwithstanding these strengths, there are a number of criticisms and weaknesses con­cerning the orthodox approach which have routinely been put forward by CTS. The first of these is that there is a distinct lack of conceptual self-awareness within the field.30 Dixit and Stump31 analysed forty syllabi in United States’ universities and found that ontological, epistemological and methodological debate is minimised, which limits ac­ademic rigour and development. Further to this, Silke32 showed that during the 1990s only 1.6% of papers within the field could be regarded as primarily conceptual papers, with the focus on the definitional debate rather than any philosophical reflection. A second common criticism is that the majority, over 90 percent, of published work has been done by single researchers, often with no academic background in the field.33 This is a cause for concern as it means orthodox research is being conducted with limited resources and by those who may not fully appreciate previous research on the topic. A third weakness is the approach’s heavy reliance on secondary sources and an overuse of literature reviews. Many authors have criticised this fact34 with Schmid and Jongman35 showing that only three out of fifty researchers claim to have generated their own data, and Silke36 arguing that secondary sources still dominate up to 80% of research. The issue with this is that researchers are not producing original data and can get drawn into a continually reinforcing feedback loop.37 Finally, many authors have raised con­cerns regarding the close relationship between orthodox researchers and the state, and an over-reliance on the problem-solving theory.38 They have convincingly argued that close ties between policy-makers and the orthodox academic community have led to event and policy driven research, and at times even biased publications that seek to strengthen the state’s position of power.

Critical Terrorism Studies

CTS grew out of dissatisfaction with the state of terrorism research and the orthodox approach, and is firmly rooted in critical theory. Although CTS is a broad and evolv­ing field made up of many diverse perspectives, Jackson39 notes that CTS approaches share a number of key concerns and commitments. First, they are sceptical of