Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Thomas M. Mieczkowski, Ph.D.


Suicide bombing, Constructionism, Symbolic interaction, Folk devils, Moral panics, Politics of fear, Terrorism prevention, Case study


Suicide terrorism is characterized by the willingness of physically and psychologically war-trained individuals to die while destroying or attempting to annihilate enemy targets in furtherance of certain political or social objectives. Rooted in the historical, social, and psychological dimensions of international terrorism, suicide terrorism is neither a unique nor a new phenomenon. Its recent resurgence and the extensive media coverage it has received account for the misleading uniqueness of this violent, complex, and adaptive form of terrorism. This qualitative study examines the definitional and rhetorical processes by which suicide terrorism is socially constructed. Using a social constructionist theoretical framework coupled with a symbolic interactionist approach, this multi-case study effectively moves the analysis of suicide bombings beyond essentialist debates on asymmetrical warfare or terrorism and into a more nuanced appreciation of cultural meaning and human

interaction. Hence this case study emphasizes how the interpretive understanding of suicide terrorism is associated with a biased representation of events and their alleged causes that is conditioned by deliberate attempts to stigmatize ideological enemies, manipulate public perceptions, and promote certain political interests. The primary research question is: How are socio-political processes, bureaucratic imperatives, and media structures involved in the social construction of suicide terrorism? Secondary research questions focus on determining how suicide terrorism is (a) a political weapon, (b) a communication tool, and (c) a politicized issue that fits into a moral panic framework. Methods used to conduct the analysis include in-depth interviews (phenomenological and elite interviewing) and document analysis (general document review and historical review). Findings highlight the interactions between suicide bombers (as contemporary folk devils), the news and entertainment media,

the public, and agents of social control (politicians, lawmakers, law enforcement, and action groups), and their respective roles in the social construction of suicide terrorism. The limitations of the study, its significant theoretical and practical implications, as well as suggestions for future research are discussed.