The dialogic construction of self and other in response to terrorism

Cameron, Lynne; Maslen, Robert and Todd, Zazie (2013). The dialogic construction of self and other in response to terrorism. Peace and Conflict, 19(1) pp. 3–22.



An applied linguistic study of talk in twelve focus groups (N=96) – six in London, where bombs exploded in July 2005, and six in Leeds, home to three of the bombers – investigates the effects of terrorism on people’s personal and social landscapes. Emotional responses of fear, of both violence and retaliation, and suspicion contribute to multiple disruptions in the construction of Self and Other. Muslim participants, who before lived with a multiplicity of voices and positions, feel reduced by non-Muslims to more simplistic categorizations through the discourse pattern of ‘lumping’, which positions all Muslims as potential terrorists and sometimes as part of a wider group of ‘non-desirable aliens’. Terrorist claims of Muslim identity bring tensions to religious positioning and interpersonal relationships, often resolved through ‘moral splitting’ that separates ‘good/normal’ from ‘bad/brainwashed’ Muslims. Less Muslim in-group bias and more non-Muslim empathy to Muslims is found than predicted. Personal connections are tested and disrupted by terrorism and some prove more resilient than others. Implications are suggested for social moral responsibility and leadership, and for discourse interventions.

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