Counterterrorism & Research Traditions

Research Traditions and the Study of Counterterrorism

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In the study of counter-terrorism, it is important to know the different perspectives from which counter-terrorism could be interpreted and developed. In the field of social research, particularly the qualitative domain, there exist different research traditions that have the potential to provide significant insights and ideas on how counter-terrorism programs could be developed, and the concept of counter-terrorism itself can be understood and interpreted by the lay man or general public. These research traditions are: narrative research, phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and case study.

Before delving into a discussion on what research tradition is most appropriate to the study of counter-terrorism, it is important to have a good understanding of the concept itself. As the term suggests, counter-terrorism are planned actions that intend to actively “respond” to an identified threat to a specific group or geographic area. However, counter-terrorism is not only defensive in its actions. It is also offensive in that it identifies, anticipates, and plans for potential attacks or threats. Thus, even before a threat happens, counter-terrorism would have anticipated this threat and developed a plan to prevent the potential threat from becoming a reality. In the current international political climate, counter-terrorism is a “buzz word” that is both controversial and necessary, as numerous countries and governments are threatened by hostile countries and governments. This threat is especially true in countries in North America and Europe, which are considered leaders in international politics and are therefore susceptible to threats and attacks by countries and governments that do not espouse the principle of democracy embodied by the Western nations.

Looking at the research traditions under study, each has its own merit in providing significant insights as it applies in the study of counter-terrorism. It is critical to note that in studying and planning for counter-terrorism, interpretation is key to a successful tactic or strategy. This is why the research traditions are important: they provide guidance in understanding information, providing a different perspective and understanding of specific events and phenomena that would otherwise have been ignored or not highlighted.

Narrative research, one of the research traditions under study, is determined through its and analysis methods. This tradition relies on texts and documents as basis for understanding an event or phenomenon. These texts can be in the form of journals, blogs, and any other form of documentation of a personal account of an event or phenomenon. Phenomenology, meanwhile, takes into account lived experiences as basis for analysis and interpretation of an event or phenomenon. It takes these experiences in a collective manner, and determines the nature and dynamics of the phenomenon through these collective experiences.

Grounded theory is theory development based on different stages of analysis, starting from the identification of data points which will become codes for the researcher. Codes will then be developed into concepts, and concepts would then be grouped and determined under different categories. From these categories, the researcher would be able to develop a theory that is responsive to the information generated from the even/phenomenon. Ethnography is the observation and/or documentation of everyday life based on the observations of the researcher, either through participant observation, interviews, or group discussions. This method takes note of everything about everyday life, from the mundane and trivial to the extraordinary and significant.

In determining which research tradition would best help the study of counter-terrorism, two traditions are salient: narrative research and grounded theory. Narrative research is critical in the study of counter-terrorism because it is through personal documents that investigators and analysts gain insight in determining the conception of an event or phenomenon. Through narrative research, a researcher would be in understanding the event/phenomenon, which is best if these perspectives come from the personal thoughts of the . This is especially a useful method of identifying potential threats and in .

Another important tradition is the grounded theory, which takes “small evidence” and develops them in a manner that would be best accepted as a theory. This method is strategically useful for counter-terrorism investigators and analysts, who are given many small, unrelated “evidence” that could about the event or phenomenon. By piecing together all these small evidence, a theory would then take form based on the analyst’s understanding of the situation (i.e., context or background of the event/phenomenon). An advantage of using grounded theory is that the theory can be proven and supported using these small evidence collated to help develop the proposed theory. The foundation of the theory itself is strong because it is evidence-based, albeit the chosen domain of the study is qualitative.