Interviewing Terrorists

A Case for Primary Research
  • John Horgan
Part of the Integrated Series In Information Systems book series (ISIS, volume 18)

While the events of 11 September 2001 have catalysed a significant upsurge in terrorism research, social science efforts to systematically research terrorist behaviour have yet to convincingly demonstrate their greater potential, particularly in relation to not only how existing theoretical frameworks might be tested with data, but on a broader level in terms of how data-driven evidence can lead to the formulation of a more solid basis for the development of counter-terrorism initiatives. It is unfortunate that much academic research on terrorism, despite (or perhaps because of) its often prescriptive nature, remains often misinformed, skewed in nature but perhaps most significantly, often unsupported by empirical enquiry. Reasons for this include a general reluctance to admit that our analyses (however plausible) remain limited in part by our perceptions both of the concept and phenomenon of terrorism, this is turn markedly influenced by our reluctance to engage in first hand research with people who are, or have been, involved in terrorist violence – the very prospect still remains unpalatable to many. This Chapter presents a short descriptive attempt to address a variety of practical issues for consideration in the hope that it may ultimately help lead to an increased acceptance that field research on terrorist behaviour is not only viable, but represents a research tool which we need to seriously exploit and subject to comparative analysis (e.g. of individual researchers’ experiences to begin with). A case study of the author’s experiences in Ireland conducting PhD research illustrates a variety of themes, but seek to assert that exciting data with subsequent extensive hypothesis testing and theory formation will become an inevitable implication of employing such methodologies. Given the perennial problems highlighted by scholars of political violence, the space to vocally develop such avenues deserves support and researchers should be encouraged to disclose and discuss their experiences of primary research.


Terrorist Group Political Violence Security Force Terrorism Study Command Structure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Horgan
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political ViolenceUniversity of St. AndrewsScotland

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