How terror evolves : an evolutionary framework for the study of terroristic techniques
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Terrorism research often tends to anachronistically impose current conceptions of terrorism onto historical events, comparing and equating modern terrorism to selected historical incidents, thus decontextualizing them and ignoring that these historical acts had different aims, used different tactics, and were interpreted in different ways at the times in which they took place. This thesis proposes a new framework which not only reconceptualises terrorism, but also provides a sound means by which the evolution and spread of techniques associated with terrorism can be surveyed. To this end, this thesis argues that terrorism should be viewed as an umbrella term for a wide range of techniques viewed (by the societies in which they are enacted) as illegitimate means of collective actions aimed at making political claims and seeking to influences political processes and outcomes. The proposed framework – based on an evolutionary approach – advances three arguments: (1) techniques of political violence have variation in fixed traits and behavioural patterns; (2) these traits and patterns can be transferred either through reproduction or emulation; and (3) the relative rate of transmission is partially determined by a trait’s usefulness in adapting to the technique’s ever-changing environment. This evolutionary approach allows us to conceptualise different techniques of political violence as variants among many, all of which have undergone a range of mutations, thereby allowing us to trace each technique’s development by looking at its predecessors. This framework is in turn applied to a survey of the evolution of aeroplane hijacking – with a specific focus on the various adaptations the technique has undergone since its inception, the means by which such variations spread, and the factors leading to its adoption or rejection by different claim makers operating in different environment and seeking to advance diverse claims – and concluding that modern examples of hijacking are nothing more than one mutation along a long evolutionary path which began in the jungles of Peru nearly 85 years ago.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2026-05-29
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 29th May 2026
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