A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Sociological and Criminological Explanations of Terrorism


Theories are essential for scientific advances, allowing researchers to test assumptions and to dispel superstitions and prejudices. Early theories of terrorism however were often the byproduct of thought pieces, and have since been derided by esteemed scholars for dubiously mischaracterizing terrorism. In recent years both sociological and criminological theories have been advanced to motivate a host of research that has supplanted earlier intuitive but inaccurate theories of terrorism. Testing these theories with the benefit of analytic advances and more comprehensive datasets has revealed numerous insights that have guided more effective counterterrorism strategies. This work has also provided compelling evidence that sociology and criminology have much to offer our understanding of terrorism. This chapter documents some of these major theoretical contributions for understanding terrorists’ motives and for informing efforts to prevent terrorism, while highlighting the existing strengths and gaps in this burgeoning research.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Fisher, Daren G. and Laura Dugan. 2019. "Sociological and Criminological Explanations of Terrorism.” The Oxford Handbook of Terrorism, eds. Erica Chenoweth, Richard English, Andreas Gofas, and Stathis N. Kalyvas. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198732914.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780198732914-e-10

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