NordForsk project examines what fear of terrorism does to you – and society

Sveinung Arnesen (left) and Dag Arne Christensen, Uni Research Rokkan Centre. Photo: Andreas R. Graven, Uni Research

NordForsk project examines what fear of terrorism does to you – and society

Does the threat of terrorism lead to a ruder, more caustic political environment and an erosion of confidence in the authorities? This is what researchers in the NordForsk project “The Challenge from Terrorism in the Nordic Countries: An analysis of citizens’ reactions, policy responses and legitimacy” will be trying to determine.

Dag Arne Christensen of the Uni Research Rokkan Centre in Bergen is leading the three-year project which was awarded nearly NOK 10 million in March 2018. The project is part of NordForsk’s Nordic Societal Security Programme.

“Democracy as a form of governance is under pressure from terrorist acts and from the ever-impending danger of terrorism. There is a dilemma between providing security to the population and avoiding unnecessary infringement of people’s freedom and privacy. We need to learn more about how democratic states can cope with this dilemma,” says Dr Christensen, the centre’s research leader.

For decades, the Nordic democracies have been characterised by a high level of internal trust and consensus. The question is whether this underpinning of stability, calm and predictability in society could be disrupted.

“We are interested in what happens when people are afraid and angry,” he says. “The core of our new research project can be summed up as follows: we want to learn more about how terror affects people and how terror affects politics.”

Why is it important to know what people perceive to be terrorism? 

“When an incident is defined as an act of terrorism, stronger policy instruments are often applied in an attempt to prevent future attacks of a similar kind,” says Sveinung Arnesen, another researcher at the Uni Research Rokkan Centre. “The definition affects how the problem is approached. Fear of terrorist attacks can make politicians more open to allowing wider monitoring and intervention in the private sphere. It is important to find out what people think of the anti-terrorism measures being introduced and whether there is a correlation, a legitimacy in the relationship between risk and safety.”

The project is unique because it includes collaboration on data from the citizen panels in Norway, Sweden and Iceland. Reykjavik University and the University of Gothenburg are partners in the project, along with the University of Bergen.

This is the first time the Nordic citizen panels are being used in such an extensive and sustained way in a research project, ensuring high methodological quality and reliable results for the researchers:  

“The citizen panels will provide solid data on people’s attitudes towards anti-terrorism policy instruments, such as monitoring methods. We can follow the same people over time and see if their attitudes and opinions change,” says Mr Arnesen.

Read the full article at Uni Research (in Norwegian only)

Read more about the Nordic Societal Security Programme.

Text and photo: Andreas R. Graven, Uni Research



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