Fifty years of scholarly research on terrorism: Intellectual progression, structural composition, trends and knowledge gaps of the field

Milad Haghani, Erica Kuligowski, Abbas Rajabifard, Peter Lentini

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Scholarly literature on terrorism is analysed in its full scope with three main goals: (i) to objectively determine the structural makeup of the field, (ii) to document its current and past temporal trends; and (iii) to identify underrepresented areas. The size of the literature is estimated to have exceeded 18,000 items. At the highest level of aggregation, the field is found to be composed of four major divisions representing: (a) political, ideological and criminological, (b) economic, (c) psychological; and (d) emergency response aspects of terrorism research. The literature has been largely driven and guided by outside political events. Two major spikes in the intensity of terrorism research are distinctly identifiable. The extent of research triggered by and linked to the September 11 attacks has been such that it has generated its own stream of publications, although, activities associated with this cluster have notably slowed down since 2010. Two major research streams—one linked to “domestic terrorism” and a newer stream linked to “economic impacts of terrorism (particularly, on tourism and financial markets)”—are identified as currently the trendiest topics of this domain. Research on “right-wing/far-right” terrorism, although not new in this domain, shows clear signs of re-emergence and surge of activities. The analyses also identify gaps where further research is required. Most notable on that front is the striking paucity of empirical research on human behavior (i.e., civilian response) during (or in the aftermath of) terror attacks. Largely overlooked in this domain is the potential role of individual mental preparedness and/or peace-time training in mitigating the impact of terror events and increasing communities' self-efficacy in the face of terror. The multitude of dimensions that branch out from this single notion could potentially form a new division of terrorism research—possibly, a multidisciplinary crossover between the existing psychology and emergency response divisions—whose findings can help better prepare the public and reduce impacts of terror attacks on civilian communities. Some of these dimensions include (a) developing scales/inventories for measuring public preparedness level to react to terror attacks, (b) determining best response strategies to various forms of terror attacks, (c) identifying public misconceptions about best response, (d) examining public conformity and acceptance of training programs, (e) identifying effective means/media of raising awareness, (f) breaking down knowledge retainment barriers, and (g) determining best means of utilising bystander role as “zero responders” during terror attacks and capitalising on civilians’ altruistic tendencies for terror impact mitigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102714
Number of pages35
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • Emergency management
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Mass emergency
  • Political economy
  • Political psychology
  • Political violence
  • Public safety
  • Terror attacks
  • Terrorism preparedness
  • Terrorism prevention
  • Terrorism response

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