Rational Choice Theory, Grounded Theory, and Their Applicability to Terrorism
by Lance Lindauer

 

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Executive Summary

The study of terrorism is complex and multifaceted.  Debate surrounding the rationality behind terrorism has made Rational Choice Theory a popular research methodology within Terrorism Studies.  However over the last forty years, the increased frequency and tenacity of terrorist acts has opened the door for new research and new methodological approaches such as Grounded Theory.  While both epistemological frameworks have applicable utility and contextual validity, they rely on various assumptions and face extreme challenges in implementation.  Two common themes emerge when assessing terrorism within the two frameworks: Rational Choice Theory is most appropriate in short run scenarios, while Grounded Theory (particularly the Glaserian school) is more insightful with a long-run focus and time span.  With respect to counterterrorism policymaking, if terrorists are presented alternatives to terrorism, or are somehow forced out of the terrorism market, they may indeed alter their actions.