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The Theorizing of Terrorism within Criminology

Published onJan 25, 2023
The Theorizing of Terrorism within Criminology
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The Theorizing of Terrorism within Criminology1

Objectives. While terrorism studies were once castigated as atheoretical and unempirical, criminology has been well suited to apply theories of crime to terrorism and to then test those theories with rigorous methods and robust data. The present study takes stock of how criminologists have theorized about terrorism and tested those theories over time in 13 of the discipline’s leading journals. Methods. The study systematically examines theoretical framing, hypotheses, methodological approach, focus within criminology and criminal justice, and policy recommendations in terrorism-focused articles. Results. While terrorism has become more central within top journals, sparse attention has been paid to many criminological theories that could help us understand terrorism. Additional qualitative, theoretical, and mixed-methods research is needed. Further, few articles address the making of terrorism laws. We identify other systematic strengths and weaknesses across the literature and highlight domains for future research. Conclusions. Criminological research on terrorism has engaged theories within and beyond the discipline and employed a range of methodologies with diverse data sources to make contributions to both our broader field and to the larger body of scholarship on terrorism. Yet, many opportunities exist for criminologists to expand research on the making, breaking, and reaction to break laws regarding terrorism.


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