Terrorism and Technology

Authored by: Ann Larabee

The Routledge History of Terrorism

Print publication date:  April  2015
Online publication date:  March  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415535779
eBook ISBN: 9781315719061
Adobe ISBN: 9781317514879


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The role of technology is fundamental to our understanding of modern terrorism, and yet historians have largely viewed technology – especially the bomb – as merely incidental or instrumental objects, vehicles for violently carrying out pre-existing political aims. To borrow philosopher Carl Mitcham’s definition, technologies are not only objects but also activities, ways of knowing, and volitions. 1 When we look at the ways groups embed technologies in their repertoire of political action, we find that technologies are important agents that have reshaped activities, networks, identities, and goals. 2 Technologies are also important as the contexts in which terrorist acts unfold, including, for example, urban geographies that concentrate populations in small areas, communications media that carry news of these acts, and targets like transportation systems. Most importantly for this chapter, the flow of technological projects from one group to the next reveals much about the disturbingly porous borders between state and non-state actors, and among those defined as terrorists, insurgents, soldiers, and military engineers. It troubles the tendency to characterize groups as defined by their political beliefs, as diabolical inventors removed from any sources of invention, and as anomalies in societies that wage war through arms development and trade. There is no such thing as a terrorist technology, but only technologies that have been disseminated through circuitous pathways to those who have been deemed the wrong hands. This chapter proposes that it is well worth adding the question of technology to the subfield of the history of terrorism, which has been mostly focused on definitions, typologies, psychological and political motivations, and ideological conflicts. 3

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