A for Anomie

Eric Baudelaire


Veröffentlicht am 04.07.2017


The idea that terrorism and other forms of political violence are directly related to strains caused by strongly held grievances has been one of the most common explanations to date and can be traced to a diverse set of theoretical concepts including relative deprivation, social disorganization, breakdown, tension, and anomie. Merton (1938) identifies anomie as a cultural condition of frustration, in which values regarding goals and how to achieve them conflict with limitations on the means of achievement.

Gary LaFree and Laura Dugan, “Research on Terrorism and Countering Terrorism”, Crime and Justice, Vol. 38, No. 1, 2009.

Block or Blocked

If terrorism in each of its expressions can be considered an indicator of the existence of a political block (of an impossibility of reacting if one wishes to react differently), this influences its real ability to modify the situation. Terrorism has been historically more successful when it was not the only form of struggle, when it operated in situations which were not totally blocked. The more terrorism tries to become the only arm, the fewer are its chances of success; the nearer it gets to the pure strategic-finalistic form, the more it seems destined toward suicide.

Luigi Bonanate, “Some Unanticipated Consequences of Terrorism”, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 16, No. 3, 1979.


When news stories pair threatening information with fear cues, threatened respondents are significantly more likely to support militaristic foreign policy than respondents who only receive threatening information. [...] The emotional cues in the media, combined with the perception that another attack was likely, shaped the types of policies that the public demanded to address terrorism in the aftermath of the [September 11] attacks.

Shana Kushner Gadarian, “The Politics of Threat: How Terrorism News Shapes Foreign Policy Attitudes”, The Journal of Politics, Vol. 72, No. 2, 2010.


There has been some debate between those who stress the rational and planned nature of terrorist activities and those who view their behavior as an extension of mental disorder, giving rise to the often stated view that at least a proportion of terrorist action is carried out by “crazies.”

Margaret A. Wilson, “Toward a Model of Terrorist Behavior in Hostage-Taking Incidents”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 44, No. 4, 2000.


The tremendous number and variation of terrorist organizations in the world preclude a single causal explanation for terrorism that obtains in every situation. The equifinality of terrorism ensures that any causal explanation is necessarily probabilistic, not deterministic.

Max Abrahms, “What Terrorists Really Want: Terrorist Motives and Counterterrorism Strategy”, International Security, Vol. 32, No. 4, 2008.

and Free-rider

An application of a simplistic free-rider theory implies there will be insufficient retaliatory resources allocated to suppressing multinational terrorism because it has the characteristics of a public good. If every potential victim derives benefits from the retaliation by any one of them, then every potential victim has an incentive to free-ride on the retaliatory actions of another. The consequence might be that no nation takes retaliatory action.

Edmund H. Mantell, “On the Political Economy of Binational Counter-Terrorism”, The American Economist, Vol. 51, No. 2, 2007.

[I]n the case of potential followers, there is a freerider problem: since a follower’s contribution towards the achievement of the goals of the organization is likely to be small, why not freeride and hope that others will make the necessary effort?

Ronald Wintrobe, “Extremism, Suicide Terror, and Authoritarianism”, Public Choice, Vol. 128, No. 1/2, 2006.

Genetic profit

[I]f the family of a suicide bomber receives enough financial benefit to save the lives of three of his siblings, he makes a genetic profit. (Suicide could also pay if it raises your family’s social status, allowing your siblings to marry higher status spouses.) Rewards for the families of suicidal terrorists are apparently routine.

Bryan Caplan, “Terrorism: The Relevance of the Rational Choice Model”, Public Choice, Vol. 128, No. 1/2, 2006.


Heightened sensitivity, like habituation, is a form of response to repeated stimuli. After a particular fear is triggered in a person, a subsequent reoccurrence may stimulate
a stronger response because of the development of “hyper-excitable fear circuits.” Thus, early terrorist attacks may cause a relatively weak reaction, but hard-wire an individual so that later attacks generate a stronger response.

Guy Stecklov and Joshua R. Goldstein, “Societal Responses to Endemic Terror: Evidence from Driving Behavior in Israel”, Social Forces, Vol. 88, No. 4, 2010.


The combination of the innovative use of explosives in an operation that necessitates killing the carrier in order to damage opponents, and the different recruitment and training methods required to conduct the attacks means that suicide bombing can be considered a military innovation. While not all military innovations are effective and not all terrorist groups attempt to maximize casualties, suicide attacks inflict significant casualties relative to the cost of the attack.

Michael C. Horowitz, “Nonstate Actors and the Diffusion of Innovations: The Case of Suicide Terrorism”, International Organization, Vol. 64, No. 1, 2010.

Terrorist behavior is highly imitable. Kidnapping foreign and domestic notables, barricade-and-hostage situations, and hijackings constitute a form of terrorism that is used as a bargaining tool to compel a regime to concede to specific terrorist demands (Hutchinson, 1975). Such terrorist tactics are innovations that are most ideally “diffusable” or imitable (Rogers and Shoemaker, 1971).

Manus I. Midlarsky, Martha Crenshaw, Fumihiko Yoshida, “Why Violence Spreads: The Contagion of International Terrorism”, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 24, Issue 2, 1980.


Once bargaining has begun, outcomes again hinge on how many objectives the terrorists feel they must accomplish and how willing authorities are to see hostages killed. The point where these two sets of judgements meet will probably be tested in the offering, refusing, and accepting of concessions. Terrorists can easily find themselves in a dilemma: unwillingness to injure hostages may lead authorities to prolong bargaining and refuse concessions; injuring hostages may be an invitation for the authorities to launch a determined strike against the terrorists.

Jerome R. Corsi, “Terrorism as a Desperate Game: Fear, Bargaining, and Communication in the Terrorist Event”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1981.


Since suicide attacks by definition involve the death of members of the terrorist group, and potentially members with substantial expertise and knowledge depending on the particular situation, they cut into overall organizational knowledge and expertise.

Michael C. Horowitz, “Nonstate Actors and the Diffusion of Innovations: The Case of Suicide Terrorism”, International Organization, Vol. 64, No. 1, 2010.

Limited success

A “total success” denotes the full attainment of a terrorist group’s policy objective. Conversely, “no success” describes a scenario in which a terrorist group does not make any perceptible progress on realizing its stated objective. Middling achievements are designated as either a “partial success” or a limited success in descending degrees of effectiveness. [...] A limited success is counted as neither a success nor a failure, even though the terrorist group invariably faces criticism from its natural constituency that the means employed have been ineffective, or even counterproductive.

Max Abrahms, “Why Terrorism Does Not Work”, International Security, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2006.

Market share

Governments and terrorist organizations can be viewed as engaged in an advertising war for the hearts and minds of people in strategic locales, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. In this advertising game, each side tries to gain market share—by affecting what people know, or think they know, about themselves, governments, and terrorists.

Charles H. Anderton and John R. Carter, “Applying Intermediate Microeconomics to Terrorism”, The Journal of Economic Education, Vol. 37, No. 4, 2006

Narcissistic injury

[P]olitical experience, such as the humiliation of subordination, might produce an adult narcissistic injury that might reawaken the psychological trait of infantile narcissism. The result might be a pathological exaltation of self (the genesis of the leader), the abandonment of independence to merge with the archaic omnipotent figure (the genesis of the follower), or a combination of these impulses, as seen in the egotistical yearning for glory under the mask of selflessness.

Jeff Victoroff, “The Mind of the Terrorist: A Review and Critique of Psychological Approaches”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 49, No. 1, 2005.


[A]nother ideological component is the othering of the general population. If members of the general population are viewed as potential converts to the cause — as is true in many leftist and some religious ideologies — then the organization will have an incentive to be discriminate in its killing. If there is a clear dividing line between members and others — as there is in ethnic and some religious conflicts — then ideologically there is no reason to discriminate when killing.

Victor Asal and R. Karl Rethemeyer, “The Nature of the Beast: Organizational Structures and the Lethality of Terrorist Attacks”, The Journal of Politics, Vol. 70, No.2, 2008.

Procedural injustice

[S]tudies suggest that the experience of procedural injustice associated with repressive governments is a major motivator of terrorism and political violence, as people find conventional means of participation blocked. Research suggests that after experiencing procedural injustice, people become “radicalized” and focus upon violent means of achieving their goals.

Oana Branzei and Samer Abdelnour, “Another day, another dollar: Enterprise resilience under terrorism in developing countries”, Journal of International Business Studies, Vol. 41, No. 5, 2010.


If reminders of one’s own mortality convey one’s potential insignificance then such reminders should augment the quest for significance as defined by one’s cultural norms and accepted ideological frames. In some cases, such norms and ideologies may identify the suicide mission against one’s enemies as a most honorable act, lending one a sense of immense veneration and significance.

[T]he underlying motivation for suicide terrorism involves the coupling of a quest for significance with a collective crisis situation, involving a perceived threat to one’s group, and a terrorism-justifying ideology whereby a suicide attack is portrayed as an act of heroic sacrifice (martyrdom) lending one’s existence and demise an aura of supreme glory.

[S]ageman’s (2004) work on terrorist networks emphasized the quest for emotional and social support by Muslims of European Diasporas who feel rejected by, and alienated from, the local societies.

Arie W. Kruglanski, Xiaoyan Chen, Mark Dechesne, Shira Fishman and Edward Orehek, “Fully committed: Suicide Bombers’ Motivation and the Quest for Personal Significance”, Political Psychology, Vol. 30, No. 3, 2009.

Rationality and Randomness

Rationality is at its peak as targets are measured according to their utility. [...] Rationality is highly stressed in the philosophy and planning of suicide terrorism; however, once practices are introduced into play, levels of rationality are reduced and randomness is increased.


Randomness is highly appreciated as it instills fear in a large population which may consider itself vulnerable to suicide attacks. […] While planning is rational it is subject to randomness; for example, the selection of the suicide bomber and the team that will launch the attack contains embedded randomness. Finally the actual selection of a target is often random because of a large number of potential targets but it is also rational as bombers bear in mind the wish to maximize casualties. [...] The seeming randomness of terrorist attacks increases public anxiety concerning terrorism.

Nurit Kliot and Igal Charney: “The Geography of Suicide, Terrorism in Israel”, GeoJournal, Vol. 66, No. 4, 2006.


[E]ven in liberal democracies, powers granted to the government in the name of imminent terrorism are seldom rescinded when the threat recedes. It is therefore important to write into any statute or regulation conferring extraordinary powers on the government a sunset clause describing the time and method of demobilization, placing the burden for extending the mobilization squarely on the government’s ability to produce credible and specific information of imminent threat.

Ashton B. Carter, “The Architecture of Government in the Face of Terrorism”, International Security, Vol. 26, No. 3, 2001-2002.

Terrorist, Terror and Terrorism

…Social scientists who attempt to explain sudden attacks on civilian targets should doubt the existence of a distinct, coherent class of actors (terrorists) who specialize in a unitary form of political action (terror) and thus should establish a separate variety of politics (terrorism).

Charles Tilly, “Terror, Terrorism, Terrorists”, Sociological Theory, Vol. 22, No. 1, 2004.


[D]uring periods of heightened uncertainty, people seek stability by subscribing to new norms, values, and ideologies advocated by charismatic leaders. The norms and values advocated are assumed to provide solutions to existing problems. If successful, this process results in the codification of new norms and values and a shift in the ideological foundations on which a society is based.

Thomas J. Badey, “The Role of Religion in International Terrorism”, Sociological Focus, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2002.

A key feature of the terrorist threat is its generalized, diffused nature, that is, the large degree of uncertainty regarding where, when, and how terrorists may strike. Such uncertainty is what greatly magnifies the terrorist threat, far beyond what it would take to confront the terrorists if faced with them or the actual damage that any single terrorist strike may cause. Indeed, if the authorities had advance knowledge of the timing and location of a future attack, actually thwarting it would be a relatively minor affair involving the deployment of little police or military power.

Manuel Trajtenberg, “Crafting Defense R&D Policy in the Anti-Terrorist Era”, Innovation Policy and the Economy, Vol. 4, 2005.


The primary focus of many terrorist groups is the resolution of perceived inequities. Religious ideologies, such as fundamentalist Islam, provide a voice for their dissatisfaction with the status quo and become a way of organizing their hatred.

Thomas J. Badey, “The Role of Religion in International Terrorism”, Sociological Focus, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2002.


One salient argument conceptualizes transnational terrorism in waves. Arguing that the collapse of the Soviet Union undermined the legitimacy of revolutionary Marxist ideology, some contend that the Iranian revolution of 1979 marked the beginning of a “4th wave” of international terrorism rooted in Islamist ideologies. Where “3rd wave” Leftist terrorism traditionally used a national liberation framework to make appeals to the middle and lower classes of less developed countries, this new Islamist terrorism is seen as making broader multi-class appeals, using more lethal tactics justified in religious terms, and is more organizationally consolidated.

Kristopher K. Robison, Edward M. Crenshaw and J. Craig Jenkins, “Ideologies of Violence: The Social Origins of Islamist and Leftist, Transnational Terrorism”, Social Forces, Vol. 84, No. 4, 2006


Xenophobia is defined as an unreasonable fear or hatred of the unfamiliar, especially of people belonging to other races and religions. Discrimination in the US has various labels including Islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, or racism. Xenophobia or the fear of the other is not an American invention; however, in the wake of 9/11 attacks, due to the myth-making capabilities of the American corporate media, new ‘fears of the other’ or the immigrant have been systematically induced in the minds of the American public; they were newly schooled in Islam and its geography.

Muhammad Safeer Awan, “Global Terror and the Rise of Xenophobia/Islamophobia: An Analysis of American Cultural Production since September 11”, Islamic Studies, Vol. 49, No. 4, 2010.

Youth bulge

A related issue is demographic change. While demographics alone cannot explain international terrorism, many say that population structure plays a role in creating grievances. Rapid population growth redistributes resources away from labor, which may increase economic grievances. Several researchers have argued that a youth bulge of unattached, unemployed men encourages generalized violence and terrorism because they are easily recruited by radical causes.

Kristopher K. Robison, Edward M. Crenshaw and J. Craig Jenkins, “Ideologies of Violence: The Social Origins of Islamist and Leftist Transnational Terrorism”, Social Forces, Vol. 84, No. 4, 2006.


We cannot assume that all government/terrorist interactions will take the form of a two-person zero-sum game. Rather, some cooperative behavior (e.g., government conceding to some demands and terrorists releasing all prisoners) might, in certain circumstances, yield results benefiting both sides.

Jerome R. Corsi, “Terrorism as a Desperate Game: Fear, Bargaining, and Communication in the Terrorist Event”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1981

Relaxing the zero-sum assumption is important for two reasons. First, assuming that the terrorist’s gain equals the defender’s loss may not sound very demanding intuitively. But its formal equivalent—that the actors put the same relative weights on the sites—seems much more demanding and less substantively appealing. Still more fundamentally, some situations simply cannot be modeled as zero-sum games. Indeed, neither the case in which threats have nonstrategic components nor the case in which the defender is uncertain of the attacker’s payoffs are zero sum.

Robert Powell, “Defending against Terrorist Attacks with Limited Resources”, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 101, No. 3, 2007

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Eric Baudelaire

Eric Baudelaire

(1973, FR/US) ist ein bildender Künstler und Filmemacher. Seine Filme Letters to Max (2014), The Ugly One (2013), The Anabis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi, and 27 Years Without Images (2011) wurden auf dem FIDMarseille, in Locarno, Toronto, New York und dem Rotterdam Filmfestival gezeigt. Auf der Grundlage seiner auf Forschung basierenden künstlerischen Praktiken entstehen Installationen, in die Fotographie, Druckgrafik, Performance, Publikationen und Screenings eingebunden sind. Aktuelle und bevorstehende Einzelaustellungen: Centre Pompidou (Paris), Witte de With (Rotterdam), Fridericianum (Kassel), Berkeley Art Museum, Kadist Art Foundation (San Francisco), Bétonsalon (Paris), Bergen Kunsthall, Beirut Art Center, Gasworks (London) und Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Seine Filme und Installationen sind Bestandteil der Sammlung des Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, des MACBA in Barcelona, des Centre Pompidou in Paris, des Museum of Modern Art und des Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.