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Decentralized Terrorism and Social Identity


  • Eswaran, Mukesh


This paper offers a theory of decentralized, non-state-sponsored terrorism that is characteristic of contemporary reality, and that explains the rise of homegrown terrorism. We argue that the sense of social identity is a prime motivator of non-strategic terrorist activities, and we investigate its consequences and implications for defence against terrorism. Terrorist responses to perceived affronts to identity increase with altruism towards in-groups and with endogenous intensity of hate towards out-groups. We show that, while out-group spite is the more essential feature of identity pertinent to decentralized terrorism, the intensity of terrorist actions is magniï¬ ed by in-group altruism because it plays an important role in overcoming the potential free-riding of terrorists. This makes individual terrorist activities possible without coordination. We use our formulation to provide an alternative explanation for why counterterrorism measures often fail, and frequently can have a backlash effect of increasing terrorism. Our results point to the need for western democracies to reformulate their foreign policies to take account of the role these policies play in instigating contemporary terrorism.

Suggested Citation

  • Eswaran, Mukesh, 2018. "Decentralized Terrorism and Social Identity," working papers tina_marandola-2018-4, Vancouver School of Economics, revised 06 Jun 2018.
  • Handle: RePEc:ubc:pmicro:tina_marandola-2018-4

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item


    social identity; decentralized terrorism; altruism; spite; us versus them;

    JEL classification:

    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • H56 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - National Security and War

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