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Cultural Resonance and the Diffusion of Suicide Bombings: The Role of Collectivism


Journal of Conflict Resolution

Published online on


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.