Knowing Terrorism: A Study on Lay Knowledge of Terrorism and Counter-terrorism

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Proceeding (Non-Journal item)


There is a very large academic literature which examines the discourses and public representations of terrorism by politicians, the media, academics and security professionals. However, within this literature there is a dearth of research on how messages and representations are received by the public, and what lay people know and believe about the phenomena of terrorism. Notwithstanding public opinion and attitude research on issues such as responses to 9/11 and the terrorism threat, there are few studies to date which systematically investigate the knowledge and beliefs of lay members of the public in terms of the nature, causes and responses to contemporary terrorism. Given how important terrorism is as an issue of public policy and cultural discourse, and how extensive counter-terrorism measures are in society, this lacuna is puzzling. This paper reports on a study carried out in Wales which investigated how lay members of the public perceive and understand the subject of terrorism and counter-terrorism. Drawing upon Discourse Analysis and Discursive Psychology, the study produced a number of interesting findings, including: significant levels of both convergence and divergence between dominant elite representations of terrorism and lay beliefs; significant levels of cognitive inconsistency, particularly in relation to the nature of terrorism and the difference between war and terrorism; awareness and fairly sophisticated understandings of the role of the media in constructing sensationalist images and views of terrorism; high levels of mediated acceptance of the notion of state terrorism; and the prominence of a number of key interpretive repertoires and collective narratives commonly employed to construct understandings of the subject. The paper concludes by reflecting on some implications of the findings, and outlining future research plans to build on the successes of the initial study.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAnnual International Studies Association Conference Proceedings
PublisherInternational Studies Association
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventISA Annual Convention - "The Politics of International Diffusion: Regional and Global Dimensions" - California, United States of America
Duration: 03 Apr 201306 Apr 2013


ConferenceISA Annual Convention - "The Politics of International Diffusion: Regional and Global Dimensions"
Country/TerritoryUnited States of America
Period03 Apr 201306 Apr 2013


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