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SP30263: Ideas about 'terrorism'

[Page last updated: 04 August 2021]

Academic Year: 2021/2
Owning Department/School: Department of Social & Policy Sciences
Credits: 6 [equivalent to 12 CATS credits]
Notional Study Hours: 120
Level: Honours (FHEQ level 6)
Semester 2
Assessment Summary: CW 100%
Assessment Detail:
  • CW 100 (CW 100%)
Supplementary Assessment:
Like-for-like reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
Aims: This unit is intended to provide students with the theoretical material necessary to understand the way in which ideas about terrorism and violence are used in society. 'Ideas about "terrorism"' introduces students to the history and practice of debates on the issue of terrorism and violence. These debates have become more urgent and much more widespread in the period since 11 September 2001.
This unit examines how 'terrorism' and political violence are explained, researched, thought and communicated about and with what effect. It examines the history of the interaction of communications and conflict and focuses first on question of definition. What is a 'terrorist' when is violence justified? It goes on to ask how do the prevailing definitions come to be produced circulated and reproduced or challenged. When does a 'terrorist' become a 'freedom fighter'? The key concept of 'state terrorism' is examined as is the phenomenon of the 'military-industrial-academic-complex'. The role of counterinsurgency and torture in conflict provide a case study as do the use of the internet in communicating war and 'terror'.
The unit provides theoretical context for students interested in understanding and investigating political violence and conflict and how they are communicated. It is intended to complement classes dealing with representation and media on the one hand and with security and conflict on the other.

Learning Outcomes: As a result of this unit students will be better able to:
1. Distinguish the key approaches that inform debates on terrorism in public debate and social science.
2. Understand the complex relationship between political violence and society.
3. Identify how ideas about 'terrorism' inform public, policy and social science debates about violence and its resolution or amelioration.
4. Recognise the pitfalls and possibilities of defining and/or using the term 'terrorism'
5. Understand how terrorism, political violence and war are communicated and represented and with what effect.
6. Critically and comparatively analyse differing instances of state and non- state 'terrorism' and political violence.

* To think creatively and analytically;
* To communicate an argument;
* To evaluate others' arguments and research;
* To learn independently and be able to assess own learning needs (i.e. identify strengths and improve weaknesses in methods of learning and studying);
* To critically evaluate and assess research and evidence as well as a variety of other information;
* To gather information, data, research and literature from a number of different sources (i.e. library, web-based, archives etc.);
* To select appropriate and relevant information from a wide source and large body of knowledge;
* To synthesise information from a number of sources in order to gain a coherent understanding;
* To utilise problem solving skills;
* To analyse and evaluate innovative practices in students' relevant degree discipline;
* To effectively and efficiently apply principles of sociological/social policy analysis within a variety of environments;
* To develop study & learning skills (note taking, avoiding plagiarism, using the library, gathering and using information, constructing a bibliography, referencing);
* To develop basic information and computing technology skills (word processing, email, using the web to search for information);
* To develop inter-personal and communication skills;
* To develop essay research, preparation and writing skills;
* To be able to construct a bibliography of varying complexity;
* To develop time-management and administrative skills;
* To develop team and group working skills;
* To reflect upon his/her own academic and professional performance and take responsibility for personal and professional learning and development;
* To solve problems in a variety of situations;
* To manage time effectively and respond to changing demands;
* To prioritise workloads, and utilise long- and short-term planning skills.

Content: This unit examines how ideas and processes of communication (including, the mass media, but also academic communications, policy communications and the use of the internet) intersect with political violence, formations of power and with popular opinion. The class interrogates sociological understandings of communication in conflict considered at a world and regional scale and in the context of debates about critical geopolitics. The unit starts with an introduction to the main theories in the area and moves on to examine the genesis of knowledge about political violence, war and conflict, in particular via history, journalism and academic and practical intellectual work on war, counterinsurgency and 'terrorism'. This means in particular considering definitional questions. The unit then moves on to consider a number of case studies of differing conflicts including the Iraq war and current government counter-terror strategies. The unit has a practical component in that it introduces students to the practical issues faced by citizens attempting to research issues of political violence. An indicative lecture list:
1. What is violence, conflict and terror?
2. Propaganda, psyops and strategic communication - the history and legacy
3. Counterinsurgency, terrorism and torture
4. State Terror in fact and propaganda
5. The Terror Experts
6. Think tanks and conflict communications
7. The Mass media and 'terrorism'
8. Communicating Al Qaeda
9. The internet and the communication of terror
10. Ending 'terror'
11. Revision.

Programme availability:

SP30263 is Optional on the following programmes:

Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies
  • UHPL-AYB13 : BA(Hons) French and Politics with Year Abroad (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AYB12 : BA(Hons) German and Politics with Year Abroad (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AYB16 : BA(Hons) Italian ab initio and Politics with Year Abroad (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AYB17 : BA(Hons) Spanish and Politics with Year Abroad (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AFB30 : BSc(Hons) Politics and International Relations (Year 3)
  • UHPL-AAB30 : BSc(Hons) Politics and International Relations with Study year abroad (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AKB30 : BSc(Hons) Politics and International Relations with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AFB10 : BSc(Hons) Politics with Economics (Year 3)
  • UHPL-AAB10 : BSc(Hons) Politics with Economics with Study year abroad (Year 4)
  • UHPL-AKB10 : BSc(Hons) Politics with Economics with Year long work placement (Year 4)
Department of Social & Policy Sciences
  • UHSP-AFB14 : BSc(Hons) Applied Social Studies (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AFB22 : BSc(Hons) Criminology (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AFB21 : BSc(Hons) International Development with Economics (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AKB21 : BSc(Hons) International Development with Economics with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • UHSP-AFB16 : BSc(Hons) Social Policy (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AKB16 : BSc(Hons) Social Policy with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • UHSP-AFB05 : BSc(Hons) Social Sciences (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AKB05 : BSc(Hons) Social Sciences with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • UHSP-AFB04 : BSc(Hons) Sociology (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AKB04 : BSc(Hons) Sociology with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • UHSP-AFB10 : BSc(Hons) Sociology and Social Policy (Year 3)
  • UHSP-AKB10 : BSc(Hons) Sociology and Social Policy with Year long work placement (Year 4)


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2021/22 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2022/23 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2021/22.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
  • Find out more about these and other important University terms and conditions here.