[New publication] Like finding a needle in a pile of needles: Political violence and the perils of a brave new digital world

For the second year I a row I was able to partner with the great folks at the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism and publish an issue of the journal featuring articles researched and written by my students at Georgetown. My JUPS-402 class, which I taught in various forms at Georgetown the past 5 springs (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) was built around a central research project developed throughout the course.

For some students, the results of this research project found its way to the pages of CTS and are featured in this issue of the journal.

Along with curating and helping to move the articles through the peer-review and editing process, I wrote the introduction to the issue. This article is focused around offering methodological insights for researching non-state actors, social movements, terrorism and political violence through digital data.

A copy of the article can be found here:

[2015] Introduction: Like finding a needle in a pile of needles: Political violence and the perils of a brave new digital world

A critical framework for the analysis of political violence, terrorism and social movements must be based around a data-driven, empirical examination of primary source data. In an era of data overabundance, possible sources for analysis are all around us, from anonymous communiqués issued by social movements to slick propaganda videos issued by military-styled insurgent and guerrilla movements. The problem is no longer Where do I find data?but has now become Through what metric can I measure reliability?A critically situated analysis of violence must take into account the intentional manipulation of facts which is standard practice by both state and nonstate actors. If one can acknowledge that both governments and Foreign Terrorist Organizations attempt to shape public opinion through selective reporting and misrepresentation, the study of political violence through the venue of discourse is appropriate. Therefore, discourse is a fitting site for critical engagement, as it is based around subjective reality and its construction, and not the establishment of authorship and truth.

To see the introduction to last year’s issue, which also made proposals for teaching and studying contemporary political violence  visit:

[2014] Introduction: Towards a critical understanding and investigation of political violence – one adjunct’s humble contributions to the study of terrorism

A critical  study of terrorism requires the use of an intentional methodology that prioritises transparency, repeatability and the analysis of primary source data, especially that which documents political violence from non-state perspectives. To teach students to investigate terrorism scientifically is in itself a radical departure from traditionalist counterterrorism approaches found in International Relations, Political Science, Criminology and other realist, defence-centric fields. In order to allow new understandings of violent phenomena to emerge, a critical methodology can include several features. First, it should begin from an understanding of violence as positional, subjective and a political formation of power.Violence can be in the form of structural inequality-–such as the denial of citizenship or autonomy for a people–-or violence can be the destruction of property for political purposes  such as the bombing of a bank or the sabotage of a pipeline. Not all state-sanctioned violence is ethical, logical, legal and just, and not all non-state violence is barbarous, insane, illegal and foolish.

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