Deviance and Dissent: A Sociological Approach to Terrorism

Entelequia. Revista Interdisciplinar, Vol. 12, pp. 27-40, Fall 2010

15 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2010 Last revised: 14 Nov 2010

See all articles by Hichem Karoui

Hichem Karoui

Center for China & Globalization (CCG)

Date Written: July 14, 2010


Since there is no definition of “terrorism” upon which all the world nations agree, this article proposes to approach the phenomenon on the basis of normative concepts widely recognized by social scientists. We think the issue would be more manageable if we use terms like “deviance” and “dissent” to describe terrorism to those people who are suffering from its consequences (Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine, etc…), without alienating them: that would move the problem from the field of fear and passivity quite anchored in the minds, to put the stress more on the politically and morally unsocial behavior. On the level of the media and the public diplomacy, this approach may reveal to be rewarding, over time.

Acknowledging the Problem: All the diplomats, the politicians, the journalists that had to deal with the terrorist issue, on an international level, know the problem: There is no possibility to agree about who is “terrorist.” Yet, before any discussion of the successes and the shortcomings of the anti-terrorist efforts in any country, we need to grasp the phenomenon of terrorism itself.

The first difficulty that we are faced with is the inexistence of a universal definition of the term “terrorism.” As a report of the Library of Congress acknowledged, there is no definition widely accepted as adequate: “Even terrorism researchers often neglect to define the term other than by citing the basic U.S. Department of State (1998) definition of terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” (Hudson, Majeska, 1999). Yet, “although an act of violence that is generally regarded in the United states as act of terrorism,” the report adds, “may not be viewed so in another country, the type of violence that distinguishes terrorism from other types of violence, such as ordinary crime or a wartime military action, can still be defined in terms that might qualify as reasonably objective.” This difficulty in defining a global phenomenon encourages the social scientist to try an approach based on recognized normative concepts. This is what the present article is about.

Keywords: Terrorism, Democratization, Middle East, Global Jihad, neo fundamentalism, Durkheim, Merton, Talcott Parsons, Jesse R. Pitts, Robert E. Park

JEL Classification: A14, B30, D74, D70, D80, H77, H70, H80, N15, N25, N45, N85, O5, 000, Z00

Suggested Citation

Karoui, Hichem, Deviance and Dissent: A Sociological Approach to Terrorism (July 14, 2010). Entelequia. Revista Interdisciplinar, Vol. 12, pp. 27-40, Fall 2010 , Available at SSRN:

Hichem Karoui (Contact Author)

Center for China & Globalization (CCG) ( email )



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