Collaborative Observatory on Terrorism, Anti-Terrorism and Violence

ESPOL-LAB participates in the ‘Collaborative Observatory on Terrorism, Anti-Terrorism and Violence’ (O.C.T.A.V.). This is an initiative of scientists from various disciplinary backgrounds, supported and funded by LabToP-CRESPPA-Paris8-CNRS, ESPOL-ICL, REPI-ULB and CERI-SciencesPo/CNRS. Its members address issues related to “terrorism” and “anti-terrorism” by questioning their relationship to the contemporary transformations of violence and politics. To this end, O.C.T.A.V.’s activities are carried out in two formats: a university research seminar and a series of “practitioner meetings” (under Chatham House Rules) with professionals from the fields of security, defence, intelligence, justice and social work. The sessions of the research seminar and the practitioner meetings alternate around the same theme.

The working group emerged from the observation that there have never been as many episodes of so-called “terrorist” violence as there have been since the 1970s and the gradual institutionalisation, in France, Europe and the United States notably, of what we have come to call “anti-terrorism”. Far from suggesting that “anti-terrorism” would generate “terrorist” violence, it rather means to reject the terrorism/anti-terrorism opposition that has structured political, media and expert discourse ever since. From the 1970s onwards, largely fuelled by experts and the media, the political discourse has constantly pitted “terrorism” against “anti-terrorism”, exclusively presenting the latter as the state’s response to “terrorist” violence. In so doing, the political discourse ignores the mimicry of practices which, since that time, is at the heart of the emergence of anti-terrorism: the more “terrorism” has been described as a new form of violence whose entrepreneurs would act as a network, the more security, defence and intelligence actors have been called upon to organise themselves in turn as a network, via increased use of computing tools, and to develop a renewed form of state intervention against the violence labelled as “terrorist”. It is this renewed form of state intervention against so-called terrorist violence that is now called anti-terrorism.

This diagnosis of a transformation of exclusively non-state violence, to which the security and defence apparatuses of modern states would only respond to by adapting to it, is wrong. In addition to locking so-called terrorists and modern states’ security, defence and intelligence apparatus in a worrying escalation of violence and repression, it also blocks the reflection about alternative public policies that could provide a different treatment of violence. Their transformation does not only affect non-state violence, but also state violence, as evidenced by the most recent proposals in France or the United States to increase anti-terrorist capabilities.
Through a three-year programme (2017-2020), the O.C.T.A.V. sessions intend to explore the broad hypothesis according to which “terrorism” and “anti-terrorism” refer to the complex transformations of the way in which the general phenomenon of violence has been problematized and categorized under modernity, in order to allow its treatment by state authorities whose legitimisation process has been described and analysed by a Weberian-Eliasian historical sociology. Under this hypothesis, it is accepted that the analysis of the violence involved in the terrorism/antiterrorism cycle can no longer rest upon the series of oppositions historically accredited and yet often misleading between individual violence and state violence, between “terrorism” and “anti-terrorism”, between democracy and barbarism, between modernity and Islam, between the West and the Middle East, etc. Such an analysis implies a reflexive gesture of distancing such categories of thought that structure the entire political and expertise discourse.

To subscribe to the O.C.T.A.V. information list (in French), please contact: administration@octav.org

O.c.t.a.v. Activities

Research Seminars, Conferences and Study Days: See the programme of O.c.t.a.v. activities between June 2017 and March 2020.