Beyond the polarising constructions of terrorism : Challenging the discourses that silence public debate in Western Australia
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
School of Psychology
Computing, Health and Science
Dr Deirdre Drake
Dr Eyal Gringart
Since the events of the 11 September that saw the downing of the United States World Trade Centre towers and the partial destruction of the Pentagon in 2001, a significant focus politically, academically, and publically has been given to the issue of terrorism. During this past decade a number of labels, assumptions, and narratives have become dominant in an effort to explain what many continue to describe as a contested and complex phenomenon. The evidence indicates that the privileging of the ‘new terrorism’ narrative has functioned to contribute to many of the controversial counter-terrorism policies and practices both in Australia and globally, as well as the demonisation and marginalisation of Muslim communities in much of the Western world. While many studies in the past decade have focused on examining the discourses on terrorism, including but not limited to the War on Terror, Islamic terrorism, and the media constructions of Muslims, few researchers have explored how people work with these typical constructions of terrorism to effect their own social positioning and identity development.
Within a Critical Discursive Psychological framework (see Wetherell, 1998), terrorism is understood as an ontologically unstable and discursively constructed social category. As such the current study explored the various discursive constructions of terrorism at three specific levels. Firstly, an extensive examination of the academic literature was undertaken as a means of situating the often neglected knowledge about terrorism within its historical, cultural and political context. Secondly, a review was conducted of the primary West Australian newspaper reports from 2001 until 2005 to explore how the dominant labels, narratives and assumptions about terrorism have been represented, (re)produced and resisted at an institutional level. Finally, using interviews from 21 local West Australian residents, I examined the identity that individuals constructed for themselves and others in drawing on many of these narratives and assumptions within their responses.
Four interpretative repertoires of terrorism were identified and these repertoires set up a David and Goliath battle ground of binary opposites that functioned to position terrorism, and those seen to engage in terrorist activities, as either morally understandable if not defensible versus culturally dysfunctional and oppressive. These highly polarised repertoires were used by participants to navigate this emotive, troubled and exclusionary phenomenon. However, while the more positive and morally acceptable repertoires initially helped to support individual identity construction and positions of the self, they also functioned to challenge other aspects of the participant’s lives where participants became positioned as responsible for the exclusionary or oppressive practices towards others.
As a consequence, in trying to make sense of terrorism, the participants were confronted with a morally unmanageable situation where full adherence to any one understanding meant being negatively positioned with an unwanted identity. In their attempts to mitigate the shame associated with being stigmatised and socially excluded as a result, the participants utilised a number of moderating practices that functioned to self silence and subjugate their own voices. Ultimately, this meant that while the four repertoires were often deployed together, the need to continuously resist all four positions to varying degrees, ideologically functioned to silence and exclude the participants from the terrorism conversation. It was therefore argued that within the Western understanding, the discourses on terrorism have become discourses of shame. These findings suggest that the discourses on terrorism are much more complex for the average person than has been considered previously and have implications that go well beyond those of the Muslim communities.
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McCarthy, S. (2013). Beyond the polarising constructions of terrorism : Challenging the discourses that silence public debate in Western Australia. Retrieved from https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/1011