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The European Union and Beyond

From Social Movements to Terrorist Organisations: The Role of Resources in the Process of Escalating Violence

Contentious Politics
Political Violence
Social Movements
Tom Konzack
German Institute of Global And Area Studies
Tom Konzack
German Institute of Global And Area Studies

Social movements are indispensable actors in shaping our societies. Yet, most terrorist groups emerged from social movements. While there is a broad consensus that terrorism is a ‘weapon of the weak’, there has been little systematic research on the role that resources play for social movement organisations (SMOs) in escalating political violence towards terrorist attacks. Besides numerous shortcomings in current studies on terrorism, one of the most serious is the lack of research on the connections and relations between forms of political violence and how and why transitions take place – in particular towards terrorism. This paper seeks to fill these gaps by assessing moral, tangible and organisational resources of SMOs in an innovative theoretical framework. Thereby, it attempts to help reconciling terrorism and social movement research.
Drawing on social movement theory, a holistic concept is developed that synthesises structural, rational and relational elements. It is argued that terrorism is rather a product of a reciprocal process of competitive adaptation and not a phenomenon sui generis. It is conceived as a tactic among others chosen by SMOs from a repertoire of actions.
The effect of pertinent variables on the onset of terrorist tactics is analysed in an event-history model. The data is drawn from a specifically designed dataset. In contrast to many other studies, terrorism is defined as recurring attacks against strictly civilian targets.
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