Suicide Bombing and the Value of Life

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther


The discursive framing of the ‘war on terror’ was secured through fear of one key figure: the irrational, religious and fanatical ‘suicide bomber.’ As a key signifier of all that the free world opposes this figure is now the subject of a whole academic, cum therapeutic, industry. The ‘professor of suicide bombing’ doggedly develops policy advice about how to prevent and anticipate such attacks. This article rejects social scientific explanations of human bombing, interpreting this figure as a social symptom of the hegemonic framework for the ordering of life, rather than as an irrational outburst against modernity. I argue that the human bomber’s act is a symptomatic response to the politicisation of life itself in neoliberal societies. Such an analysis restores to human bombings a significance which exceeds the delimitation of the act as ‘mad, bad or sad’ in the social scientific literature. Explicitly at stake in these acts is the value of lives, the means for determining this value, and the meaning of value itself. If the human bomber is a figure of fear this article concludes by refiguring this fear as the expression of desire, a desire without possible object in the current political conjuncture. I begin with a critical analysis of the dominant modes of interpretation of suicide bombing. Second, I think these acts as symptomatic responses to a particular ordering of lives. I trace the logics of this order through an analysis of the form of the act itself. Last, I characterise these acts as forms of acting out, that is as symptomatic of the dominant order, rather than as attempts to refigure that order.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventSecurity, Surveillance and the State - Edgehill University
Duration: 1 Jan 2012 → …


ConferenceSecurity, Surveillance and the State
Period1/01/12 → …

Bibliographical note

The lecture is available to view online at the following address:


  • Suicide Bombing
  • Neo-liberalism
  • Value


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