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As in the study of any social problem, to understand terrorism we must understand how certain interest groups and bureaucratic agencies present their particular views of terrorist phenomena, and how they strive and try to establish these as the ones that come to be accepted as obviously correct. We also need to consider their audiences. Why do the media accept or reject certain views of terrorism? Why does the public accept one kind of rhetorical presentation rather than another? How aYe popular attitudes shaped and reshaped by the images and stereotypes offered in the mass media, and in popular culture? When we appreciate the processes involved in making news about terrorism, we are better able to sift critically the claims that are made, and to evaluate policies.
Images of Terror provides a critical guide to the images of terrorism that we see daily in the mass media. All too often, scholars and journalists accept uncritically the interpretations of terrorism they receive from governments and official agencies. Our perceptions of terrorism are formed by the interaction of bureaucratic agencies, academics and private experts, and the mass media. Yet the images and stereotypes offered do not necessarily reflect objective reality.
Jenkins argues that terrorism, like most other problems, is socially constructed. He does not suggest that terrorism is not a real problem, an authentic menace, or that society should not respond promptly and effectively to terrorist threats. But rather than being something understood in the same way by people in different societies and different eras, the concept of terrorism is shaped by social and political processes, by bureaucratic needs and media structures. This process of construction applies both to the overall concept, and to specific movements, to groups and their actions.
For the foreseeable future, terrorism is likely to remain a dominant issue in the political life of the United States, and indeed of much of the world. This book raises important questions about how we form our notions of the enemy to be confronted, and how, when we make statements about terrorism, we know what we think we know.
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Philip Jenkins is Professor of History and Religious Studies, Pennsylvania State University. His publications include books as well as numerous articles in historical and criminological journals. His major interests involve the means by which social problems are constructed and presented in politics and the media.Review:
"Jenkins (history and religious studies, Pennsylvania State Univ.)... argues that terrorism, like any other problem, is socially constructed... Using historical evidence, Jenkins explains how the public perception of terrorism is constructed through the interaction of bureaucratic agencies, academic and private experts, and the mass media... This is a timely and concisely written book, especially for sociology and political science collections. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels."
—G. B. Osborne, Choice
“As a warning to consumers about the proliferation of post-September 11 theories on terrorism, this book is brilliant. Its “buyer beware” message is welcome and eneded, and the examples used throughout the book of shoddy analysis and “socially-constructed interpretations” are compelling. Jenkins’ book is a wonderful antidote to believing everything printed about terrorism in the press, not to mention government publications and popular books on the subject. It is a plea to see the current focus on this type of political violence within its historical framework and to carefully discern what is “spin” from what is an accurate understanding of the problem.... [T]his is an excellent book. Jenkins’ examination of what happens to the concept of terrorism when it enters the realm of public discourse is fascinating and original. It must be read by anyone who is serious about filtering available information and searching for effective responses to modern terrorism.”
—Audrey Kurth Cronin, Political Science Quarterly
“Philip Jenkins has written a provocative, timely . . . analysis of the social construction of the problem of terrorism. . . . There is much to admire in his analysis. Jenkins demonstrates that the social construction approach can be quite useful as a means to introduce the study of terrorism to students.”
—Michael Stohl, Contemporary Sociology
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