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IR4587   Hunting The Lone Wolf: The Rise of Isolated Assassins and Terrorists

Academic year(s): 2024-2025

Key information

SCOTCAT credits : 30

ECTS credits : 15

Level : SCQF level 10

Semester: 1

Planned timetable: Tuesday 1pm - 2pm

A puzzling feature of recent political violence has been the prominence of lone attackers: individuals who strike in isolation, but proclaim loyalty to some wider ideology or cause. This phenomenon is frequently treated merely as a contemporary security nightmare. But it is older than often assumed: and this module traces the emergence of lone assassins and terrorists over 500 plus years. Between overview sessions (intro. and conc.), it adopts a biographical approach. Each week will take an individual case study as a ‘portrait in a landscape’. Cases are selected that are well-documented. This allows students some access to the attacker’s own thought-world; as well as to contemporaries’ reactions to their unexpected actions. From this close-up focus, we will step back to consider much wider questions. What is the changing relationship of lone attackers to wider society? What role does ‘toxic masculinity’ play in creating them? And how do communications revolutions encourage them?

Relationship to other modules

Pre-requisite(s): Before taking this module you must pass IR2006

Learning and teaching methods and delivery

Weekly contact: 1 X 1 hour lecture and 1 X 1 hour tutorial per week.

Scheduled learning hours: 21

Guided independent study hours: 275

Assessment pattern

As used by St Andrews: Coursework - 100%

Re-assessment: Written examination - 100%


Module coordinator: Dr T K Wilson
Module teaching staff: Dr Timothy Wilson

Intended learning outcomes

  • Critically assess the concept of the 'lone wolf' terrorist
  • Understand the key insights of social psychology on forces driving individual radicalization
  • Explain, with examples, how individuals have become lone actor terrorists
  • Identify the historical macro-conditions that encourage the proliferation of lone actor attackers
  • Critically assess the role of toxic masculinity as one driver of lone actor terrorism