Title: Defining Terrorism: an impossible puzzle
Much time and effort has been expended in the quest to define terrorism. Such questions as whether terrorism is an exclusively non-state actor activity and whether those with a just cause should be regarded as terrorists raise intractable political and ethical issues. The result is an endless loop of example and counter-example, leading many to conclude that a satisfactory definition is impossible.
But a different approach is possible; one which does not ask what terrorism is but how current understandings of the term came to exist. Just as I gained new insights by investigating how to build this triangle, applying a social constructivist perspective to the term terrorism also opens up a range of fresh questions. How is terrorism constructed or 'made' in social, political, and cultural spheres? How are claims about 'terrorism' put together by policymakers, legislators, and other elites? How are constructions of terrorism interpreted and understood by relevant audiences? Are there contradictions and inconsistencies in dominant constructions and understandings of terrorism? If so, how are these camouflaged or forgotten? And do representations of this phenomenon make possible – or foreclose – particular responses?