Global Social Disorganization: Applying Social Disorganization Theory to the Study of Terrorist Organizations

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Virginia Tech


The lack of a consistent theoretical framework for understanding the social context in which terrorist organizations emerge and operate stifles the systematic study of terrorism and inhibits the ability of the social sciences to influence international policy. To address this limitation, the present study begins by defining terrorism, and the related phenomena of terror, terrorist, and terrorist organization. As classification is necessary for any scientific investigation, typologies of terrorism currently found in the academic literature are reviewed next. Finally, a criminological framework is applied to the study of terrorist organizations and the environments in which they operate. The primary purpose of the present investigation is to determine whether a classic criminological theory, social disorganization theory, can be applied to the study of terrorist organizations. Drawing from several cross-national data sources, this study operationalizes Shaw and McKay's (1942; 1969) original measures of social disorganization, residential stability, ethnic heterogeneity, and socioeconomic status, at the macro-level of the nation-state. A curvilinear relationship between measures of social disorganization and the hosting of terrorist organizations in each nation-state is predicted. That is, terrorist organizations are expected to require some degree of social organization to operate but, beyond a certain point, social organization is predicted to have an inhibitive effect on the functioning of these organizations, as strong institutions emerge to control this and other forms of collective violence.



Terrorist, Terrorism, Terror, Social Disorganization Theory, Typology, Terrorist Organization