Special Issue "Genealogies of Terror: Histories of the Present"

A special issue of Genealogy (ISSN 2313-5778).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 October 2019).

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Michael Blain
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Sociology, Boise State University, Boise, ID 83725, USA
Interests: power; subject; genealogy; politics; terrorism; counterterrorism; knowledge; ethics; victimage ritual

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The spectacular September 11, 2001 attack on the US by Al Qaeda provoked a global War on Terror (WoT), multiple new power struggles and an intensification of political surveillance and wars fought worldwide. One can say without fear of exaggeration, “the practices of terror, terrorism and counter-terrorism” are fundamental features of the history of the present. The Special Edition theme is “Genealogies of Terror: Histories of the Present.” This should call attention to the many possible lines of critical research in this area. The purpose of this issue is to provide a venue for scholars engaged in genealogies of terror, terrorism, or counterterrorism that are directly relevant to the history of present (i.e. the "present" understood in its contemporary globalized or worldwide sense).

The WoT has produced multiple effects in the order of knowledge, power, and ethics, reconstituting terrorism as a serious field of knowledge, and terrorists and counter-terrorists as new subjects of power. Thus these practices have diffused globally by means of US WoT (active in over 70 countries worldwide) and have been taken up by allies and adversaries alike. The scope of this special edition includes genealogies of the tactics and strategies of terror and terrorism deployed by multiple actors (and avoiding the arbitrary trap state actors employ. This edition will consider articles that focus on the rhetorical discourse targeting “terrorists” to incite and legitimate “counterterrorism” struggles directed against domestic or foreign opponents as well as cases that focus on revolutionary or resistance movements that engage in terror practices.

Past research has linked understandings of “terror” to multiple discourses and practices; the 18th C. French associated terror positively with the law, the power and magnificence of Monarchs, medical practices and health, and the effects of tragic dramas on spectators, and once the Revolution kicked in, the negative valences with surveillance committees, revolutionary tribunals, and the guillotine (Schechter 2018) and the British tradition of Gothic “tales of terror” (Crawford 2018). Terrorism emerges as a central problematic following the French Revolution, that continues into the present evoked by the recurrent political revolutions and world wars of the 19th and 20th centuries; these events have provoked serious debates in the philosophy of ethics that link terrorism to “evil” (Berlin 1990; Cole 2006). Another line of research has tied “terrorism” to the biopolitics involved in governing liberal democratic societies and their colonies and territories (Blain 2007, 2015, 2018). These discourses and practices have been directly implicated in savage and sadistic campaigns of state-sponsored “counterterror” against “terrorists.” Whole regions of the world have been targeted and deliberately “destabilized in the name of ‘counterterrorism’.”

The purpose of this issue is to provide a venue for those conducting genealogies of the practices of “terror,” “terrorism,” and “counterterrorism.” A search in the data-bases for articles Pre- and Post-9/11/2001 in many fields generates a massive discursive formation. This edition is not focused on abstract discussions of the “theory” or “methodology” of genealogical research. This has been done very well. Of course, these issues may be broached in passing as a way to define and situate the specific character of directly relevant to the project report.

In one of his last interviews with Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow (1983), Michel Foucault differentiated three possible domains of genealogical research: "First, an historical ontology of ourselves in relation to truth through which we constitute ourselves as subjects of knowledge; second, an historical ontology of ourselves in relation to a field of power through which we constitute ourselves as subjects acting on others; third, an historical ontology in relation to ethics through which we constitute ourselves as moral agents" (p. 237).

Power. Two possible lines of research: 1) The practices of victimage ritual and political terror that constitute actors as sovereign powers. These inquiries might focus on the specific struggles, discourses and practices involving political leaders and authorities representing states (e.g., Trump and US, Putin, Russia, Ukraine or Uzbekistan, Assad and Syria, Aung San Suy Kyi and Myanmar or Burma; Xi Jinping and Xinjiang, Libya, West Africa, the Philippines, etc.), or the leaders or representatives of movements (e.g., Al Qaeda, ISIS, Ansar al-Sharia, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, etc.)

2) Representations of power struggles involving terror, terrorism and counter-terrorism in popular culture and mass media, movies, literatures, the arts). For example, one could conduct a genealogy of depictions of state-sponsored, nuclear terror in movies made in the US or Britain have gone from movies focusing on the effects terrorism perpetrated by states like the US or USSR (On the Beach, 1959, Dr. Strangelove or Failsafe, 1964) to contemporary counterterrorism, including the use of “torture” in movies like Unthinkable, 2010 or Zero Dark Thirty, 2013). Articles are welcomed from scholars that focus on popular culture and art produced by filmmakers and industries around the world (e.g., Indian, Asian, African, or Latin American).

Knowledge. Biopolitics of terrorism. The power / knowledge dynamic involved has been the subject of research on the genealogy of “terror” (Blain 2007, 2018). Inquiries that focus on the biopolitics of terrorism in cases outside of the Anglo-American orbit are particularly welcome. The notorious problem some have in operationally defining what “terrorism” means for research purposes is really an opportunity. It is sign of the tactical polyvalence of “terrorism” discourse and its complicated relation to various political strategies and practices (elites or movement actors). It is arbitrary to limit the problem of terror to non-state actors. We must be objective and study the practices of terror and counter-terrorism employed by states as well as movements targeting states.

The biopolitics of terrorism can address any or all of the following lines of inquiry, including

1) truth discourses about the ‘vital’ character of living human beings (terrorists, terrorism, counterterrorism, perpetrators and victims of terrorism); 2) the authorities competent to speak these truths regarding terrorists (e.g., terrorism experts, policy wonks, psychological and psychiatric scientists, social scientists, etc.) 3) the strategies of intervention in collective life in the name of life and health (e.g., counterterrorism practices targeting high profile actors with specific risk factors, in religious, penal, and family institutions.) 4) the modes of subjectification, in which individuals work on themselves in the name of individual or collective life or health (programs to rehabilitate terrorists, mental health, etc.)


Ethical conduct involves four practices: an ethical substance, mode of subjection, asceticism, teleology (Foucault 1983; also Blain 1984). For example, Sergey Nechayev, the 19th C. Russian revolutionary, published a catechism that included a long list of duties toward self, comrades, and society that directly link ethics to acts of terror. 1) Ethical substance is that part of myself or my behavior which is concerned with moral conduct, such as apathy or indifference, conscience, care or concern, or desires for power and/or revenge. 2) Modes of subjection refer to how people are invited or incited to recognize their obligations. They are the principles, reasons, or convictions that actors internalize to overcome apathy and despair, or anger and desires for revenge. These principles include jihad and patriotic duty that actors invoke to goad themselves and others into acts of political violence: "Evil can flourish when good men are idle." 3) Asceticism refers to self-forming activities or the ways we can change ourselves in order to become ethical subjects. Acts of terror or counterterror involve making serious sacrifices of life, of self and others. These acts include participation in bombings, assassinations, and violent attacks on civilians. 4) Teleology refers to the kind of ideal being which we aspire to become when we behave in an ethical way. Actors often invoke great heroic martyrs, warriors, or great charismatic leaders such as or Saladin or bin Laden. Heroes personify the ideal-typical characteristics of ethical-strategic power subjects who terrorists” or counter-terrorists emulate in their political actions.

The ethics of terrorism and counter-terrorism has been the subject of serious philosophical and political discussion (Card 2010). Articles devoted to this topic might examine the genealogy of this discussion, and its shifting relation to discourses of good and evil, right and wrong, sick and healthy, and their links to questions of the legitimacy of terrorism or counterterrorism, the law and legitimate authority, and the right to coercion to violate and terrorize opponents. How have conceptions and arguments shifted and changed in the context of shifting and changing power dynamics, and power struggles? How has terror or counter-terrorism justified? In defense of sovereignty and the law? In resistance to the injustice of tyranny, oppressive states, and domination? A good example of this was the very public debate in the 1930s between the communist revolutionary, Leon Trotsky, and the American philosopher, John Dewey.

This edition of Genealogy will provide a venue for those conducting genealogies of the practices of “terror,” “terrorism,” and “counterterrorism.” It is an opportunity for scholars to report the results of research on the full range of struggles in play in these times, particularly but not exclusively outside the Anglo-American or Western European orbits. Articles dealing with cases from Asia, Africa, and Latin America are particularly welcome.

It should be clear that this edition of the journal will not be focused on abstract discussions of the “theory” or “methodology” of genealogical research. This has been done very well in previous editions of this journal. Of course, these issues may be raised in brief as a way to define and situate the specific approach adopted by the author(s) of the report.

Prof. Dr. Michael Blain
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Genealogy is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • power
  • subject
  • genealogy
  • empire
  • politics
  • terrorism
  • counterterrorism
  • ethics
  • victimage ritual, biopolitics

Published Papers

There is no accepted submissions to this special issue at this moment.
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