Terrorism, Talking, and Transformation
: Northern Ireland and Mindanao

  • Harmonie Toros

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis investigates whether talking can contribute to the transformation of conflicts characterized by terrorist violence. It begins by questioning the understanding of terrorism put forward by traditional terrorism scholarship and its contention that talking in contexts of terrorism is useless and/or counterproductive. Drawing on Frankfurt School critical theory and in particular its application by the Aberystywth School of critical security studies, it develops a critical theory-based approach to terrorism that overcomes many of the hurdles seen as impeding talking in terrorism contexts. This investigation then examines how dialogical responses to terrorism can be understood and puts forward the concept of talking. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s practical theory, the thesis develops an understanding of talking that overcomes the negotiations-dialogue dichotomy, re-embeds the practice in the daily lives of social actors, and restores the potential for transformation to human interaction. Bourdieu’s theory is then used to develop an understanding of transformation that includes both practice – modus operandi – and that which results from practice – opus operatum. It examines several practices (calculation, the symbolic impact of talking, self-entrapment, persuasion, familiarization/humanization, empathy/sympathy, and trust) through which talking may contribute to the transformation of means as well as personal, relational and structural transformation. This theoretical framework is applied to two case studies: talking from 1988 to 1998 aimed at transforming the conflict in Northern Ireland; and talking from 1996 to 2007 between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Based on numerous interviews with key actors, documentary analysis and participant observation, the case studies examine how talking contributed to the transformation of these conflicts. The thesis concludes by arguing that although talking must not be seen as a panacea, it cannot be ruled out as a potential response that can contribute to the transformation of conflicts marked by terrorist violence.
Date of Award03 Feb 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorJeroen Willem Gunning (Supervisor) & Nicholas John Wheeler (Supervisor)

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