Sageman, Innovation, & Citation:
A Social Movement Critique



Anti-terror scholar Bruce Hoffman has complained that Sageman’s book Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-first Century, is a lazy analysis with flawed conclusions.

Critical praise for Sageman’s work as groundbreaking and innovative seems to be inversely proportional to the reviewer’s knowledge of social movement theories developed over the past thirty years.

In his blistereing book review of Sageman’s Leaderless Jihad, Hoffman offers a list of authors who have done significant work in computerized analysis of terrorist groups, and then notes that “No references to any of these authors of standard studies are found in Leaderless Jihad's citations.”1 According to Hoffman: “Sageman's analysis would have been clearer and more scientifically rigorous had he employed essential and basic tools of social science research and built on the core theories of social and terrorist networks.” In addition to one obvious case of plagiarism of Garfinkel’s work, Sageman is short on citations, which more than a problem of attribution, does not allow other researchers to trace the documentation for numerous claims, and suggests that Sageman has simply not done his homework and is unaware of whole swatches of recent social science research. This is a problem indeed for someone whose work is influencing critical government policies.

Hoffman notes that “the reader is told that ‘until recently, a large part of the literature on terrorism concentrated on definitions of terrorism’ -- with the citation justifying this fatuous assertion referencing a book published in 1984.”

One graduate student in sociology posted an Internet criticism of Sageman’s apparent claim that his use of middle level analysis to study social networks is new. “It sounds to me as if the author… is operating under the delusion that he has single-handedly invented meso-level analysis - especially that which focuses on the level of interaction. All by himself!” The student adds that “this delusion is explained in [a] second passage, where he also seems to indicate his complete lack of awareness” of standard works in the disciplines of sociology and anthropology.2 The use of meta, meso, and micro analysis is standard in social science.

Sageman explanation of how individuals are recruited into dissident social networks and social movements, fails to cite the standard sociological works in which those concepts were developed.

For example, when Sageman talks about resource mobilization and use of the political process by movement leaders, he does not mention that these concepts were developed in the 1970s and 1980s by John D. McCarthy, Mayer N. Zald, and Doug McAdam, among others.3

Sageman is often praised for his innovative and original work on radicalization, social networks and movements, and terrorism, yet much of Leaderless Jihad draws from sociologists and anthropologists and other scholars who study collective behavior, social movements, organized supremacist groups, millenarianism, and political violence. Almost none of this work over the past twenty years is cited by Sageman. Yet Sageman was recently featured in a major profile in the newsletter of the American Sociological Association…which he wrote himself.

Understanding the ideology, frames, narratives, and recruitment methods of a social movement is important for law enforcement officers concerned about potentially illegal acts yet attempting to work within the legal boundaries set by the First Amendment By blurring the distinction between ordinary social movements, gangs, and violent terrorist cells, Sageman provides a justification for federal policymakers who want to loosen restrictions of the surveillance of political dissidents.

1 Hoffman mentions “the pathbreaking work of Stephen Borgatti, Kathleen Carley, David Krackhardt, and Jeffrey Reminga on covert social networks; Aparna Basu, Valdis Krebs, Ami Pedahzur, and Arie Perliger on the structural and sociological characteristics of terrorist social networks; and David Jones, Shaul Mishal, and Michael Smith on how terrorist networks operate.”

2 Anomie (blogger name), “Academic Balkanization,” wicked anomie: sociology run amok,

3 McCarthy, John D., and Mayer N. Zald. (1977). “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory.” American Journal of Sociology , vol. 82, no. 6, May, pp. 1212–1241; McAdam, Doug. (1985). Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930–1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Originally published 1982.

Leaderless Counterterrorism Strategy:
The “War on Terror,” Civil Liberties, and Flawed Scholarship

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