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

discourse analysis,47 case studies, process tracing,48 interviews,49 and observation. While analytic approaches used by CTS scholars acknowledge the dominant social scientific methods of rationalism and empiricism, they argue that interpretive and reflectivist approaches are equally valuable to answer questions which are not possible to understand in terms of lineal notions of cause and effect.

As a consequence of its ontological, epistemological, and methodological approach, Jackson50 has noted that CTS brings with it a range of practical, political and academic implications that need to be understood. Importantly, CTS aims to rebalance orthodox studies by moving the focus from a state-centric approach to security, to one focused on the security and well-being of individuals and communities. This does not mean that CTS scholars are anti-state, far from it. Rather it means that in identifying solutions to address the threat posed by the phenomenon of terrorism, an improvement in human security and well-being is seen as paramount. In line with this, while CTS scholars are committed to influencing public policy, they differ in their approach to this from orthodox scholars in that they engage equally with both policy-makers (the state) and policy takers (groups and wider society who are impacted by terrorism and the counter-terrorism policies implemented) to ensure the voices of all those impacted are taken into consideration.

There are a number of strengths that have been a driving force behind the establishment and expansion of CTS. Key of these is that CTS has significantly broadened and deepened the discussion and self-reflection within the field of terrorism studies. In terms of broadening, it includes subjects that are often neglected in traditional studies such as the broader social and political contexts within which terrorism emerges, while deepening involves the uncovering of terrorism’s philosophical and ideological underpinnings. This deepening and widening of thought is crucial as it has provoked important questions about the researcher-subject relationship, the production of knowledge, and the nexus between the academic community and the state. With regard to this latter point, the critical approach seeks to question the status quo and existing social and power structures rather than just accepting them.51 52 In this sense, CTS has been instrumental in shining the spotlight back on the state as well as on the various threats that do not impact the status quo and, thus, re-balancing the existing literature’s asymmetric focus. CTS has also had a substantial impact on how research is conducted within the field. Jackson53 explains that after criticising the over-reliance on secondary sources by orthodox scholars, CTS has sought to increase the amount of primary data gathered and has attempted to take into account the social and historical context of that data. This approach has led to increased study on typically under-emphasised topics, including gender, culture, and counter-terrorism practises.54

The emergence of CTS has also brought a number of criticisms and orthodox scholars have countered the approach with various arguments which typically centre on three issues. The first of these is that CTS overstates the novelty of its case. Orthodox