Cultural Resonance and the Diffusion of Suicide Bombings
The Role of Collectivism
Over the last couple of decades, suicide terrorism has spread over the globe like a wildfire, increasing in scope, frequency, and intensity. An increasing portion of terrorist organizations have been adding the tactic to their arsenal. The authors in this paper argue that a key factor that influences whether a terrorist organization does or does not adopt suicide terrorism is cultural resonance. This is the idea that people are more likely to adopt innovations when the innovations connect to their cultural orientations. The paper assesses the role of cultural resonance in a quantitative framework using fine-grained survey instruments that measure culture. It focuses on the adoption of suicide terrorism and a particular cultural dimension: collectivism–individualism. The results are consistent with expectations. Collectivism correlates strongly with the adoption of suicide terrorism. Authors hypothesize that such groups are more likely to adopt suicide terrorism because the culture in which they are embedded in values the group more than the individual. This article demonstrates how studies of transnational diffusion in general and conflict in particular can incorporate cultural dimensions in a deductive research strategy by building on ideas developed in cultural sociology.
Why do some terrorist organizations, but not others, adopt suicide bombing as a tactic? Dominant accounts focusing on organizational capacity, ideology, and efficacy leave certain elements of the phenomenon unexplained. The authors argue that a key factor that influences whether a terrorist organization does or does not adopt suicide terrorism is cultural resonance. This is the idea that deep and specific cultural logics, which transcend religion and nationalism, enable and constrain the sorts of instrumental behaviors that can be utilized in the pursuit of group goals. The article investigates the role of a well-established cultural orientation of collectivism, which enables the authors to measure culture systematically. Case studies, survey data, and experimental research are used to illustrate that collectivism lowers the cost of adoption by facilitating the recruitment of attackers and reducing societal backlash against self-sacrifice. The authors then test for the relationship between collectivism and suicide-bombing adoption using an event history analysis framework, finding a strong correlation.
Robert Braun and Michael Genkin
Cultural Resonance and the Diffusion of Suicide Bombings: The Role of Collectivism
Journal of Conflict Resolution 0022002713498707, first published on August 19, 2013 doi:10.1177/0022002713498707