Pop Culture and Terrorism: Constructing and Representing Terrorism through Fiction, Film, & Videogames

PSA’s Political Violence & Terrorism Specialist Group Annual Conference

28 March 2019, Senate House, London

Despite a proliferation of terrorism research since 9/11, the study of terrorism continues to operate within the constricted notions of what terrorism is, who perpetrates it, why it takes place, and how states and society might respond, resulting in an essentialist conception of terrorism as a coherent and bounded object of knowledge (Jarvis, 2009).

However, from a constructivist perspective, terrorism is a social construction (Jackson 2005; Gunning 2007), that is constituted in large part through discourse and representations. Discourse, as Foucault maintained, is productive. In other words, violent political acts do take place, but it is our discourse that ultimately produces a terrorist or terrorist act and helps shape terrorism to become whatever we say it is (Onuf 2009).

Cultural products of the arts and media represent one of the most important means through which terrorism is socially constructed, particularly due to their long-recognised role in shaping, mediating, and reproducing political discourse, culture, history and collective memory. Consequently, the tendency in some quarters to dismiss popular culture as unworthy of serious critical study, is surprising, particularly as pop culture encodes, translates, represents and reifies a society’s beliefs and practices far more profoundly than the comparatively restricted and elite world of the professional academy.

Popular culture products therefore present scholars with a vast field for the study of terrorism and political violence. From Game of Thrones, to Star Trek, Zero Dark Thirty and games such as Call of Duty, popular culture tells us something about how we construct terrorism, terrorists, and understand the legitimacy of violence. Since power works as a process of normalisation, representation, and performativity, pop culture provides a vast field in which to explore the ways in which understandings of terrorism, counter-terrorism, and other forms of political violence are represented outside of policy circles.

We invite submissions that explore any aspect of the relationship between pop culture and terrorism including, but not limited to:

  • How does pop culture shape our understandings and perceptions of terrorism?
  • How does pop culture help to construct meanings around politically violent events?
  • How is terrorism reimagined and imbricated into popular culture?
  • What are the effects of aestheticizing violence?
  • How is pop culture used to either reify pre-existing social orders, or provide subversive narratives?
  • How do popular cultural portrayals and representations of terrorism impact publics’ understandings and attitudes towards the phenomenon?

Submission guidelines:

Please submit a 350 word abstract complete with author and contact information toakil.awan@rhul.ac.uk by 26th February 2019.

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