University of Sussex
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A history of terrorism in the age of freedom

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:24 authored by Verena Erlenbusch
This thesis constitutes a critical intervention in contemporary research on terrorism. It seeks to address the problems resulting from a reductive understanding of terrorism and from a predominant concern with terrorism after 9/11. For this purpose, this thesis charts and critically engages certain watershed moments in the history of terrorism since its emergence in the French Revolution. The aim is to show that terrorism is not a historically constant and readily identifiable form of violence but a variable element in a wider context of power relations. The discourses of terrorism examined in this thesis show that conceptions of terrorism are tied to and function within a wider context of changing political interests and an evolving modern economy of power. I show that there are reasons for the different meanings and roles of terrorism across time and between societies, and that these reasons shed light on larger social, political, cultural or economic developments. It is in this context that particular discourses of terrorism help to legitimate political and legal regimes and allow for the selective exclusion of individuals, groups and ideologies from the political realm. I argue that a historically grounded and theoretically thorough analysis of terrorism can provide important insights into how the state has been able to sustain itself by incorporating and mobilizing different types of power. By way of a genealogical study of terrorism, my project attempts to map these forms of power as well as their dependence on various frameworks that are used to legitimize violence, to dismantle legal norms, and to expand power in the name of freedom and democracy. This thesis thus not only responds to the epistemological, methodological and temporal limitations of contemporary terrorism scholarship but is also of practical political relevance.


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