Why social scientists have a hard day

While going through some material about the social construction of terrorism via discoursive practice, I found some amusing comments about Germany’s top selling tabloid the Bild Zeitung. In their article Rainer Hülsse and Alexander Spencer argue, that our conception of terrorism is constructed with discourses within newspapers. The use of metaphors is existential for how we see the terrorist threat, either as a military-like challenge (when terrorists are seen as military like units with hierarchy, chain of command and superior officers) or as criminal actors within the society. To give an example they study Bild Zeitung and have a hard day while doing so because say have to sit in the library all day and have to read the worst stuff of Germany’s press.

This not only made the analysis rather time-consuming, but also caused some embarrassment – as we sat in our library for months reading nothing but the yellow press. Still, compared to the reported difficulties and dangers of primary research in terrorism studies [field research], this kind of research is less hazardous (unless one considers the impact of such work on one’s image within the faculty) (Hülsse & Spencer, 2008: 582).

I agree with that. It is quite hazardous to read the yellow press for the sake of science. Even dealing with real terrorist in interviews might be more exciting than that. But their approach gives some good insight of how the lower spectrum of the society thinks about terrorism and how their mind is shaped by propaganda like phrases (of how discourse and consent are manufactured). The authors come to the conclusion that the war-like presentation of Al-Qaeda in the yellow press seems to legitimize military use of force against terrorists. If terrorists are presented as military special forces with good training, it seems to be legitimate to face this threat with own special forces, like the German KSK and the British SAS and even the targeted assassination of terrorists. If terrorism is discoursively constructed as a threat from within the society it becomes legitimate to spy on the people and listen to their phone calls, because terrorists can be everywhere. The latter is a good example of what is going on in the majority of the Western states and the daily (water) drop-by-drop torture in the media explains why people accept their faith and remain silent about obviously dangerous tendencies in the Western democracies.

The other side of the picture is that it is the duty of scientists to act as 2nd order observers or as the 5th power in the state: checking the media (as the 4th power) and their attempts be watchmen of whats going on in politics (executive, legislative, judiciary).

Sources: Rainer Hülsse and Alexander Spencer, The Metaphor of Terror: Terrorism Studies and the Constructivist Turn, in: Security Dialogue 2008 39: 571

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