Sociology of terrorism sociology 329/314

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Terrorism has been used as a means to try to attain the goals of individuals, groups and nation-states for centuries. U.S. citizens have gradually had the unfortunate opportunity to become aware of the dynamics and frequency of terrorism in recent decades. We will all remember where we were and what we were doing the moment we found out about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The events of “9.11” are probably a primary reason for your enrolling in this course.

What can you expect from this course? You will have the opportunity to develop a sociological understanding of terrorism as a means of negative bargaining pursuant to goal attainment, insight into how one becomes a terrorist, how terrorist groups emerge, where terrorism if most frequently found today, contemporary weapons of choice, how terrorists are trained and financed, short-term as well as long term strategies for countering terrorism, and means for redressing grievances without resulting to terror.

Regardless of your major or what career path you follow after completing your degree, you can expect to live the on-going threat of terror for many years into the future. What you learn here may help you help others to mitigate against, prepare for, and respond to such events

I enjoy teaching and have a particular interest in the sociology of terrorism as it falls within my research specialty. I have been studying disaster related phenomena for approximately 17 years, have presented more than three dozen professional papers on these topics at conferences throughout the world, published more than a dozen scholarly journal articles and a book (currently in its 2nd edition) on these topics. I currently serve as a consultant to the White House Office of Emergency Preparedness re terrorism. I want to share my knowledge and experiences with you this semester. You may anticipate a very real world experience—one that is imperative since 11 September 2001. Let’s get started.

Required Books:

  1. Cindy C. Combs. 2002. Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century. 3rd Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall. (Read)

  2. Donald M. Snow. 2002. September 11, 2001: The New Face of War? New York: Longman. (Read)

  3. Michael T. Osterholm & John Schwartz. 2000. Living Terrors. NY: Random House. (Annotate)

  4. Paul L. Williams. 2002. Al Qaeda—Brotherhood of Terror. NY: Alpha. (Annotate)


Various Course Related Topics & Websites have been identified in this syllabus for you to do “background research” work. What do I mean? Access information (via library journal articles or online internet sources) on the topics you choose (pre-designated web sites are also included). Digest the information and then write a 1-2 page summary & sociological analysis for each of ten (10) such items. You are expected to turn them in as we progress through the semester. However, you must turn in at least five prior to exam 1. Summarize what you read and apply sociology concepts, theories from the course to explain or analyze what you read.

Additional homework assignments will be given periodically.
Book Annotations

Two books are designated as books to be annotated and turned in by the assigned due dates. Annotations should include summaries of what you are reading, personal reactions to what you read (for example, you may disagree with something and explain why) and apply course concepts, theories to explain what you read. Try to say something on almost every page. The first book is due by the end of week 6 and the second book is due by the end of week 12.


25% - Exam 1 (Essay—Please Bring Blue Books)

25% - Exam 2 (Essay—Please Bring Blue Books)

10% - Background Research & Homework

20% - 2 Book Annotations (each worth 10%)

20% - Project

Class Attendance Policy:

    1. Attendance at all class meetings is required. Your attendance, or lack there of, WILL affect your grade. Past experience indicates that by missing class the student punishes him/herself. A good performance in the course is usually directly related to class attendance, proper preparation and participation.

    2. A first cut does not require a written excuse from a doctor, etc. A written excuse (doctor, etc.) is required for a second and third cut.

    3. Four cuts constitute grounds for dismissal from the course and a grade of “F.” Reinstatement may be possible pending conference with the professor.

    4. Five or more cuts WILL result in an automatic “F” and reinstatement is NOT possible.

Please Note:

  1. The class schedule is subject to change, e.g., readings, tests, and so forth; you are responsible for keeping up with any changes. Not being in class when a change was made is not an acceptable reason for missing a deadline.

  2. Exams are to be taken in class when administered. Arrangements may be made for unusual circumstances if the professor is approached and arrangements are made before the exam is given; otherwise, an excuse must be submitted that is signed by a physician, etc. The university final exam rules apply to this course.

  3. Experience suggests that the student who reads and studies the assigned material BEFORE coming to class performs better in the course than those who attempt, usually in vain, to "catch up."

Listed below are suggested background research topics and pre-designated web sites from which you may want to choose to complete the required ten (10) assignments. Assignments? Access a web site, article, book that addresses the chosen topic(s), digest the information, write (word process) a 1-2 paper (for each of the ten topics) that summarizes and includes your critical response (draw from the course when possible). Each is to be turned in within 2 weeks of dealing with the topic in class. You may also choose related topics of your own in addition to this list.

September 11, 2001: NYC, Pentagon, etc. Domestic (U.S.) Hate Groups & Terrorism

Terrorism – What is it? 1993 World Trade Center Terrorist Event

Terrorism Networks “Oklahoma City” Terrorist Event

History of Terrorism Terrorism in Europe, Africa, the Mid East,

Sociology of Terrorism the Pacific Rim, the Americas

Sociological Theories: Conflict Theory, etc. IRA

Frequency of Terrorism Events PLO

Types of Terrorism Al Qaeda

Causes of Terrorism Biography of a Particular Terrorist

Weapons Used: conventional, WMD Media Coverage of Terrorism

Different Biological Agents re WMD Terrorist Training Camps

How are terrorists recruited? Countering Terrorism

Goal of Terrorists UK/European Counter Terrorism Approach

Homeland Security Office Weekly Newsletter DRC, Disaster Research Center
Homeland Security Office Home Page CNN News Home Page
ABC News re 9.11 White House Home Page
Medical NBC Online – Bio-Terroism Info United Nations Home Page
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Site BBC – News, Another Perspective
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Site Saudi Arabia News – English

Project Options:

20% - course grade !

Each student is required to complete a course project that provides him or her with the opportunity to apply concepts learned during the semester. You are encouraged to submit two separate drafts. The first draft (optional, but those who do average a letter grade better) will receive editing comments, but it will not receive a grade. It is due the 12th week of the semester. The second draft (also turn in the first with it) will receive a grade. It is due the 14th week of the semester.

The submitted project may take one of three forms:

If you elect to complete a paper, it does not have to be a formal research paper. While it may use an informal writing style, it should be well written and reflect the use of good grammar, etc. Include a title page (format of your choosing), pages are to be numbered, use sub-titles (bold font) when appropriate, double space, develop an introductory section to the paper that explains what this paper is about, develop a concluding section to the paper that summarizes and brings closure to the paper. Make sure the paper is written according to the specifics noted in your project selection (below)—and applies course concepts and theories, clearly and completely. It should be 6-10 pages in length.


If you elect to develop a product, make sure it conforms to the project specifics in your project selection (below)—and applies course concepts and theories, clearly and completely. It should be a very professional looking, finished product. Examples of products include, but are not limited to, a web site, pamphlet or brochure, video presentation.


If you elect to do a class presentation, make sure it conforms to the project specifics in your project selection (below)—and applies course concepts and theories, clearly and completely. The presentation should include the use of Power Point slides (with pictures when appropriate), perhaps illustrative video vignettes, and/or links to relevant Internet sites. The oral presentation should take between 15-20 minutes. It you need more time, make sure to let the professor know in advance of the presentation date. Handouts are encouraged if appropriate and possible.

Specific Projects to Choose from:
Terrorism Film Critique

Select and view a relevant film. Summarize the film and, most importantly, apply sociological knowledge, course concepts, etc., to explaining and critiquing what is portrayed in the film. A Film example you may wish to consider, but are not limited to: Arlington Road, The Siege, The Sum of All Fears.

Book Critique: WMD or Terrorism

Select a book (see course bibliography for help-- @ recommended). After reading the book, prepare a summary and analysis (using course concepts and theories).

Annotated Bibliography of the 8 Specified Journal Articles (see * in course bibliography)

After obtaining a copy and reading each article, prepare a summary of the article noting key issues and findings. Make sure to also interpret the practical meaning or significance of each article.

Develop a Website on Terrorism or WMD

Develop a site that provides relevant terrorism or WMD information and provides appropriate links. Launch your site and email your site address to your professor.

Counter Terrorism Critique

Outline, describe and critique (in detail) the U.S. approach to combating terrorism.

Content Analysis of Media Portrayal of Terrorism Event

Complete a content analysis that describes and assesses the nature of the portrayal of the behavioral and organizational response to a major terrorism event and apply course material to assess the media coverage. The university library will be a good source of newspaper and newsmagazine coverage. Alternately, you may also use video-taped news coverage of an event.

WMD Primer

Develop a primer of a particular WMD: what is it, how is it made/distributed, symptoms of exposure, etc..

Terrorist Group Primer

Select a terrorist group we will not focus on in the course. Digest enough information from various sources to become a mini-expert on the group. Develop a history, who’s who, time line, list of articulated group goals, etc. Apply course concepts, theories where possible.

Develop Your Own Idea

Design a project idea of your own—with the prof’s approval.




Course Orientation, Name Game, Video Vignettes

Personal Experience Sharing: Where Were You On 9.11.01?

Why Study Terrorism & Counter-Terrorism?

How I Became Involved

History of Sociological Research into Terrorism

Who’s Who in the Sociology of Terrorism Research

Specialized Publications

Using the Internet: Example Sites to Digest


What is Terrorism? Is It In the Eye of the Beholder?

Applying the Sociological Perspective:

Basic Concepts & Theoretical Paradigms (SSM)

Symbolic Interaction, Structural-Functionalism, Conflict

Theory, Post-Modern Theory

Middle Range Theories

Theory of Collective Behavior

Why Does Terrorism Exist as a Means of Goal Attainment?

Social Movements & Tools Available

Power, Domination & Emergent Norms

The Social Construction of Reality

Why/How Does One Become a Terrorist?

The Demographics & Personality of a “Typical Terrorist”

Recruiting Strategies

Socialization & Culture Clash


Frequency of Terrorist Events

Brief Historical Overview of Terrorism

Types, Typology of Terrorism

Types of Terrorism Weapons - Overview

Conventional Explosives, Poisons

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Non-Conventional Explosives




Technological Terrorism


Current List of Biological Agents of Choice & Their Effects



How Do They Operate? Training Sites & the “Curriculum”

Tactics & Strategies

Financing Terrorism:

Fundraising Organizations

State Sponsors


How Is the Media Used as a Weapon by Both Sides?


U.S. Domestic Hate Groups: Oklahoma City


Al Qaeda

An Alternative View—M. Ruppert


The Fragility of Human Social Structure

Redressing Grievances & the Geo-Political Strategy

Who Is In Charge?

The Functions of Emergency Management

Traditional U.S. Military Activities & Responses

The Bush Doctrine & Homeland Security

The Approach of Others:

Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Israel

So, What Is the Goal?

Either/Or . . . Short Term/Long Term?

Global Village?



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