Using Prison Ethnography in Terrorism Research

  • Mark S. HammEmail author


Over the past 30+ years, I have attempted to explain terrorism from the standpoint of the terrorists themselves through concise case study narratives about the behavioral antecedents and sociopolitical context of terrorism using the prison as a fieldwork setting for ethnographic research. This chapter discusses both the potentials and the pitfalls of this approach. Ethnography in terrorism research is beset with problems, many of which are insurmountable. Problems range from researcher safety and the difficulty of gaining access to terrorists to the dreaded Institutional Review Boards (IRB). But as torturous as they are, IRB procedures are necessary for the researcher’s survival. The objective in this type of research is to conduct face-to-face interviews with terrorist inmates or inmates who have become radicalized toward terrorism during their imprisonment. Crucial to this research is the establishment of rapport between the researcher and the inmates, along with a measure of humility. I conclude that if more criminologists were to use a relational approach that incorporates empathy and listening presence with extremists in prison, perhaps they could cultivate more informed explanations of radicalization, thereby reducing terrorism.


Terrorism Radicalization Prison ethnography Criminological verstehen 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Indiana State UniversityTerre HauteUSA

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