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Terrorism and Genocide

Terrorism and Counterterrorism Today

ISBN: 978-1-78560-191-0, eISBN: 978-1-78560-190-3

Publication date: 11 September 2015



Terrorism has much in common with genocide and sometimes may even be a form of genocide. In this chapter I systematically compare these two phenomena.


Drawing mainly from Donald Black’s work on terrorism and my own work on genocide, I examine the conceptual and theoretical overlap between terrorism and genocide.


Terrorism and genocide are similar and sometimes overlapping, and they occur under similar social conditions – in response to conflicts between socially distant and unequal groups. Conceptually they differ mainly in that terrorism is covert and carried out by civilians, and genocide may not be. The main theoretical difference is that terrorism tends to be upward – against more powerful targets – while genocide tends to be downward – against less powerful targets. Terrorism tends to be less effective than extreme genocide, then, and the most extreme cases have death tolls much lower than the most extreme cases of genocide.


This analysis draws from previous theories of terrorism, genocide, and social control to better place terrorism in a broader sociological context. In doing so it highlights and explains key features of terrorism, and it even helps us to speculate about the future of terrorism. That is, technological advances might in the long run destroy the social conditions conducive to terrorism, thus leading to terrorism’s ultimate demise, but in the short run they might allow terrorists to more effectively kill, leading terrorism to resemble extreme genocide in its deadliness.



Campbell, B. (2015), "Terrorism and Genocide", Terrorism and Counterterrorism Today (Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Vol. 20), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 47-65.



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