Phenomenological Approach to Terrorism and Terror (Part 1)

On May 20, 2022 Māris participated in Borys Grinchenko Kyiv University plenary session “Kyiv Philosophy Studies 2022” organised by Faculty of History and Philosophy, Department of Philosophy with the participation of the Institute of Philosophy named after G.S.Skovoroda of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, where paper “Phenomenological Approach to Terrorism and Terror: Problems and Prospects” was presented.

Phenomenological Approach to Terrorism and Terror: Problems and Prospects (Fragment 1)

[..] The field of terrorism studies, imbued with the ideas of modern political sciences, often defines terrorism as a militarised form of political violence aimed not so much at its direct victims as at some third party or witnesses of terrorism in order to intimidate them and thus achieve political changes. [4; 1, p. 24] It should be noted that notions of ‘terrorism’, ‘political violence’ and ‘terror’ in terrorism studies are vague, and this has been identified asone of the main problems by the field itself. [3; 5]

[..] According to Professor Richard Jackson, renowned scholar within the branch of critical studies of terrorism, currently terrorism studies in general can be characterised by epistemological crisis – a conviction that previous knowledge has turned out not only to be insufficient or inaccurate but also structurally invalid. [2] The problem is – as stated by Richard Jackson – that unknown unknowns – idea that we don’t know anything about terrorists – have been made the central motto of study discourse. This is expressed by at least four elements: 

  1. Rejection of previous knowledge and acceptance of total uncertainty and insecurity, or in other words, principled ignorance of future threats; 
  2. Extreme dogmatism and exaggerated caution in order to prevent and pre-emptively control the unknown; 
  3. Principled legitimisation and institutionalisation of imagination andfantasy, turning imagination into a fully-fledged tool for study and counter-terrorism activities; 
  4. The unknown unknowns as a fundamental formula of knowledge imposing the acceptance of a ‘standby mode’ as a constant and day-to-day standard. [2, p.35]

A direct echo of this epistemological orientation can be observed in specific actions during studies, in study organisation, and in the management of public life. Terrorism studies and counter-terrorism activities where ignorance serves as the basis of inquiry become anti-intellectual and de-contextualised. All that is left then is a dry description of material facts.


  1. English, Richard. What is terrorism? In: Terrorism: How to Respond.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  2. Jackson, Richard. The epistemological crisis of counterterrorism. In:Critical Studies on Terrorism, 8:1 (2015): 33-54.
  3. Shanahan, Timothy. The Definition of Terrorism. The Routledge Handbook of Critical Terrorism Studies, edited by Richard Jackson. New York: Routledge, 2016
  4. Walter, Eugene. Terror and Resistance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969.
  5. Whittaker, David J. (ed.). The Terrorism Reader, 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2003.

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