Date of Award

Summer 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Mathieu Deflem


The online recruitment efforts of ISIS have raised questions about the new role of the internet in the spread of terrorism. However, the use of the mass media by terrorist groups to recruit and spread is not unique to ISIS or the digital age and has been an aspect of terrorism since its modern conception. To explain the spread of terrorism historically and understand the unique dimensions of terrorism and the internet, a cultural explanation is proposed to explain the process through terrorism spreads as well as the content that inspires violence. This study includes two major parts: a virtual ethnography of ISIS; and a comparative-historical study of the prior international waves of terrorism. The first part examines the presence of ISIS online, with the goal of understanding the virtual environment in which people become radicalized. The second part is a comparative-historical study examines the shared cultural aspects of terrorist groups involved in the anarchist, anticolonial, and New Left waves, as well as constructing a social network of the ideological and influential connections between the groups. The final analysis of the dissertation examines ISIS in the historical context of other international waves of terrorism, and the insights gained from the in-depth examination of the media environment of ISIS. This research describes the characteristics of the virtual caliphate, and finds that it largely reflects general trends observed in historical groups. Specifically, terrorist groups possess a consistent set of cultural elements, exhibiting all of the criteria of subcultures. Furthermore, these cultural elements can be traced across time and space, demonstrating that groups draw from cultural sources to adopt and apply terrorism to address collective problems.


© 2019, Stephen Michael Chicoine

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