Terrorist Transgressions: network on gendered representations of the terrorist

The project

The image of the terrorist, whether positive or negative, is always a gendered one. The primary aim of the Terrorist Transgressions network is to analyse the myths inscribed in these images and identify how agency is attributed to representation through invocations and inversions of gender stereotypes.

Through a series of workshops including a summary conference, Terrorist transgressions: network on gendered representations of the terrorist will bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to investigate how the terrorist has been represented in the visual arts, film, photography and the media. It will give specific attention to the question of gender in imagery of the terrorist. Through work on the terrorist, the network aims to advance knowledge on the cultural representation of gender, agency and violence. It will foster collaborations and scholarly exchanges as a basis for new funding bids.

Modern discourses of the terrorist date from around 1945 and were given greater urgency after 2001 following terrorist attacks on America, London, Madrid and elsewhere. The horror experienced in Western societies was the appearance of a new sense of the vulnerability of the body politic, and therefore of the modern self with its direct dependency on security and property. The terrorist has been constructed as the epitome of transgression against economic resources and moral, physical and political boundaries.

Although terrorism, its contexts, histories and forms, has been the focus of intense academic activity in recent years, especially in the fields of politics and international relations, cultural representations of the terrorist have received less attention. Yet terrorism is dependent on spectacle and the topic is subject to forceful exposure in popular media. Dissident organisations produce images of the terrorist, for example as martyr, hero or avenger. Agencies, including national authorities, involved in combating terrorism, need to visualise the terrorist in order to give identity to the threat. In Northern Ireland, figures in balaclavas pointing guns are painted on nationalist houses; the face and body of Abu Hamza Al-Masri, called the 'The Hook' in the UK press, is made the emblem of terror's ugliness in contrast to the normative appearance of terror's victims; Osama Bin Laden has been demonised in popular culture as effeminate and sexually depraved.

While the terrorist is predominantly aligned with masculinity, women have been active in terrorist organisations since the late 19th century. Particularly since the 1980s, women have perpetrated suicidal terrorist attacks, including suicide bombing, where the body becomes a weapon. Such attacks have confounded constructions of femininity and masculinity, with profound implications for the gendering of violence and horror.

The project arises from the War, Gender and Visual Culture network.

University of Reading and Birkbeck College, University of London in collaboration with the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst


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