Critical Perspectives on Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism

The details
Sociology and Criminology
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Monday 15 January 2024
Friday 22 March 2024
23 October 2021


Requisites for this module



Key module for

MA MF9112 Organised Crime, Terrorism and Security,
MSC MF9012 Organised Crime, Terrorism and Security

Module description

Since 9/11 there has been unprecedented interest in terrorism across political, media and academic discourses. Indeed, regarding the latter, in 2008 The Guardian reported a 23-fold increase in academic articles citing 'terrorism' since 2001. Despite this proliferation of research, analysis and commentary, a number of interconnected problems persist in the study and understanding of terrorism.

An axiom in this debate is the notion that the definition of 'terrorism' is highly contested. Often, this is articulated by the simplistic notion of the terrorism versus freedom fighter cliché, which, although this does much to highlight the moral relativism of terrorist action, is close to conceptually useless.

This is due to a number of reasons. First, as Weinberg (2005:2) correctly argues, the maxim 'simply confus(es) the goal of terrorism with the activity'. What does this have to say about essentially guerrilla groups that occasionally adopt terrorist tactics, such as the LTTE, for example?

Moreover, the terrorist/freedom fighter opposition does little to highlight the diversity of terrorist activity, which is often tied to specific action and thus whether they are deemed justifiable. It fails to grasp the nuances and complexity of 'just causes' that lie beyond mere moral relativism and, crucially the internal complexities and changes in strategies and activities during the evolution of terrorist campaigns.

Finally, this relative approach to the definition of terrorism does not account for the role of the state as a terrorist actor. This latter concern has led to the 'emergence' of critical terrorism studies which positions itself against what they perceive to be the orthodox standpoint of much mainstream scholarship on the issue. In particular, critical terrorism scholars point to the state, rather than dissident groups being the principle source of insecurity.

Module aims

Starting with debates surrounding the definition and discourse of terrorism, this module examines the both the enduring themes and contemporary debates relating to the conceptualisation, commission and control of terrorism.

Module learning outcomes

In doing so the module is structured over three main areas of enquiry: analysing terrorism, dimensions of terrorism and counter-terrorism. Classes will comprise of three distinct parts: a formal lecture, group discussion and student presentations. Topics and groups for student presentations will be assigned during the first class. Come to classes prepared, become informed through reading, form opinions and be prepared to debate.

Module information

The module is structured over three main areas of enquiry:


1. Defining and Conceptualising Terrorism
2. Perspectives on Terrorism


3. Political Ideology and Terrorism
4. Animal Rights Extremism
5. Religious extremism: Al Qaeda, violent Islamism and suicide missions


6. Surveillance
7. The war on terror, state crime, and human rights (
8. Policing terrorism, communities and legitimacy
9. Law

Learning and teaching methods

Most modules at postgraduate level in Sociology are taught as a 2hr seminar. Most classes, labs and seminars will be taught face-to-face (assuming social distancing allows this). There may also be some online activities – either timetabled as a live online session or available on Moodle in the form of pre-recorded videos. You will be expected to watch this material and engage with any suggested activities before your seminar/class each week. Please note that you should be spending up to ten hours per week undertaking your own private study (reading, preparing for classes or assignments, etc.) on each of your modules (e.g. 30 hours in total for three 20--credit modules). You are strongly encouraged to attend the classes/seminars as they provide an opportunity to talk with your class teacher and other students. The classes/seminars will be captured and available via Listen Again. However, if you want to gain the most you can from these seminars/classes it is very important that you attend and engage. Please note that the recording of seminars/classes is at the discretion of the teacher.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Essay    100% 

Additional coursework information

Please note that assessment information is currently showing for 2018-19 and will be updated in August 2019

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Peter Fussey, email:
Professor Peter Fussey



External examiner

Prof Benjamin Bradford
University College London
Available via Moodle
Of 18 hours, 18 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information
Sociology and Criminology

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