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“Terrorist Group” or “Social Movement”: Groupism and the Problem of Common Sense Categories in Comparative Political Research

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By: Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases in Sociology
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Abstract

Objectivity is a constant struggle for social scientists, requiring a reflexive “break” with the social world. Central to this break is the distinction between categories of analysis and categories of practice. That is, we cannot treat the symbolic representation of reality as objective reality, but instead analyze social facts and political claims as reality-producing instruments. We must, furthermore, avoid the pitfalls of groupism, that is, the tendency to treat practical representations of “groups,” such as “terrorist organizations” and “social movements,” as substantial, unified actors. We cannot ignore the objective existence of social groups, nor can we take for granted that they exist in practice—or in line with their asserted or ascribed representations. Groupist labels are powerful practical weapons in political struggles over the representation of reality—and over the monopolization of the instruments that make representations objective realities. Thus, social scientists cannot take “terrorist organizations” and “social movements” as categories of analysis but as objects to be investigated and explained. I demonstrate this in relation to my own research into the divergent outcomes of insurgent peacemaking in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country. I conclude by arguing that social scientists must take an iterative approach, moving back-and-forth between the instrumental and symbolic, ensuring that our analytical language functions as an analytical toolkit suited to understanding social and political life as objectively as possible while not legitimizing arbitrary ideological claims as scientific “fact.”

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Representation of reality

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