Greenwald, in the midst of an angry screed:
In a book critiquing the “terrorism expert” field, Jackson argued that “most of what is accepted as well-founded ’knowledge’ in terrorism studies is, in fact, highly debatable and unstable.“ He therefore scorns almost four decades of so-called Terrorism scholarship as ”based on a series of ‘virulent myths’, ’half-truths’ and contested claims” that are plainly “biased towards Western state priorities.” To Jackson, terrorism is “a social fact rather than a brute fact” and “does not exist outside of the definitions and practices which seek to enclose it, including those of the terrorism studies field.” In sum, it means whatever the wielder of the term wants it to mean: something that cannot be the subject of legitimate “expertise.”
I’ll let you decide whether Glenn is fairly characterizing the book
“Contemporary Debates on Terrorism.” “Critical Terrorism Studies: A New Research Agenda,” (my error). Here’s a brief summary of John Searle on social facts:
Searle maintains that brute facts are objective, and that social facts may be both subjective and objective. Brute facts are objective, in that they do not depend on our attitude about them. For example, mountains and valleys are physical facts, no matter what attitude we take toward them. On the other hand, social facts depend on the attitudes which we take toward them. For example, the value of a five-dollar bill is a social fact which depends on our agreement that a five-dollar bill is worth something.
However, social facts may be objective when they are commonly accepted, and when they are not a matter of individual preference or opinion. For example, the duty of a policeman to enforce the law may be classified as an objective social fact. According to Searle, social facts may be epistemically objective (in that they are not a matter of individual preference or opinion) but may be ontologically subjective (in that they depend for their existence on being agreed upon as facts).
And so no, “social fact” does not mean either a) something that cannot be the subject of legitimate expertise, or b) something that means whatever the wielder wants it to mean. Beyond “terrorism” here is a list of social facts:
The Great Plains
Indeed, the notion that social facts were beyond the realm of legitimate study (even “expertise,” itself a socially constructed term), and that they mean whatever the wielder wants them to mean would be extremely surprising to Emile Durkheim.
None of this is to say that the field of terrorism studies has been particularly productive, or that specialists have done enough to separate themselves from amateurs, or that profound ideological biases affect even the best work etc. etc. Focusing the critique on those points would be helpful and productive; willfully misunderstanding the basic building blocks of human social inquiry in order to pursue a half-baked, nonsensical vendetta is neither.