What is a Terrorist Group? Conceptual Issues and Empirical Implications

Terrorism and Political Violence, Forthcoming

19 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2013

See all articles by Brian J. Phillips

Brian J. Phillips

University of Essex - Department of Government

Date Written: July 9, 2013


Researchers increasingly conduct quantitative studies of terrorist groups, which is an important advance in the literature. However, there has been little discussion of what constitutes a “terrorist group,” regarding conceptualization or measurement. Many studies of terrorist groups do not define the term, and among those that do, definitions vary considerably. The lack of clarity leads to conceptual confusion as well as sample selection issues, which can affect inferences. To address these issues, this paper offers an in-depth analysis of the term and its use. It explores definitions in the literature, and then discusses different samples used. Empirically, the paper demonstrates how sample selection can affect variable values. It also shows that a non-representative sample, such as the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list, can lead to inaccurate generalizations. Ultimately, I present a straightforward “inclusive” definition, and argue for its practicality. Other suggestions are made for a more effective and cohesive research program.

Keywords: terrorism, terrorist groups, terrorist organizations, concepts

Suggested Citation

Phillips, Brian J., What is a Terrorist Group? Conceptual Issues and Empirical Implications (July 9, 2013). Terrorism and Political Violence, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2291730

Brian J. Phillips (Contact Author)

University of Essex - Department of Government ( email )

Wivenhoe Park
Colchester CO4 3SQ, CO4 3SQ
United Kingdom

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics