What is Terrorism?

40 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2014 Last revised: 4 Nov 2014

See all articles by Joseph K. Young

Joseph K. Young

American University; American University - School of International Service

Date Written: 2014


In the conceptual literature on terrorism, there is no shortage of answers to the question “what is terrorism?” Indeed, the terrorism literature has been heavily criticized for a deluge of definitions. And yet the booming quantitative terrorism literature generally examines a narrow set of what is terrorism: how country-level factors explain variation in the number of terrorist attacks. This paper demonstrates the variety of ways that scholars currently operationalize terrorism and compare to the ways it could be operationalized. I replicate studies using alternative operationalizations of terrorism to examine the consequences of the terrorism literature’s collective bet to focus on attack counts at the country level. Finally, I discuss the implications of the narrow set of operational choices with an eye towards how a greater variety of approaches would produce a more robust research agenda.

Keywords: terrorism, measurement, quantitative research

Suggested Citation

Young, Joseph K., What is Terrorism? (2014). American University School of Public Affairs Research Paper No. 2014-0007, APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2454681 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2454681

Joseph K. Young (Contact Author)

American University ( email )

School of Public Affairs
4400 Massachussetts Ave
Washington, DC 20016
United States

American University - School of International Service ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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