CFP: Knowing terrorism: ethics, methods and politics of researching political violence

The attacks of 9/11 still casts a long shadow over foreign and domestic policy agendas in the US, the UK and many other countries. The launch of the ‘Global War on Terror’ led to instability and conflict in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa, with the tragedies of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria of particular note. Torture and other human rights abuses have been widespread and sweeping changes to security policies have impacted on civil liberties and everyday life.

The same period has seen a significant growth in research on conflict and ‘terrorism’. But whilst government counter-terrorism agencies are increasingly seeking to engage with academics, little attention has been paid to the ethical and methodological issues that arise from such research. In the UK, in 2015 the ESRC commissioned the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) at the University of Lancaster mostly funded by the UK security and intelligence agencies. CREST will deliver research, training and knowledge synthesis on terrorism, conflict and security threats, all of which will be overseen by the security and intelligence services. In the US, academics have been recruited by the military for the development of the controversial Human Terrain System, and the Department of Defense has funded ‘strategically important’ academic research on conflict and terrorism via its Minerva Initiative. What are the implications of these kinds of research partnerships and relationships?

The aim of this themed issue is to address the ethical and methodological issues raised by researching ‘terrorism’ and conflict. Papers are invited that consider any aspect of the relationships between researchers, the researched and research sponsors, including:

  • The ethical issues faced in conducting empirical research on ‘terrorism’ and the political challenges involved.
  • Academics have a variety of collaborations and encounters with government, military or intelligence agencies, or armed opposition groups. What are the possibilities and dangers of such encounters? What safety and reputational risks do researchers run and what protections are there?
  • Lessons to be learnt from incidents like Project Camelot; or the campaign to banish intelligence agencies from US campuses; or more recent initiatives such as the Human Terrain System or the Minerva Initiative, in terms of the relationship between research sponsors, researchers and the researched.
  • Is covert research ever justified? Are there public interest defences for covert research, for example in researching abuses or corruption by powerful bodies or individuals? Is covert or secret research where the source of funding is concealed, and results may not be published, ever justified?
  • The UK Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (2015) makes it the duty of academics (and others) to ‘prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. How should researchers respond to the counter-terrorism policy and practice of the state?
  • Is the ‘Impact’ agenda allowing exciting new collaborations with ‘research users’, or are they challenges to the independence scholarship? Can there be such a thing as ‘negative’ impact or is any impact a ‘good’ thing?
  • What methods can or should be used to study terrorism?
  • Are new methods opening up new possibilities? How do digital methods, social media, big data and social network analysis affect the study of conflict and political violence?
  • What processes underlie the definition and use of terms and concepts used in the study of conflict such as ‘terrorism’, ‘radicalisation’, ‘extremism’ and others?
  • What are the useful concepts that can enable independent research on political violence including on issues such as propaganda, torture or ‘state terrorism’?

Manuscripts should follow the usual instructions for electronic submission of papers to Contemporary Social Science. Contributions should normally not exceed 8,000 words in length. Authors should indicate that they wish the manuscript to be reviewed for inclusion in the special issue. The Editors of this issue would be happy to review abstracts for papers in advance of their receipt. All papers will be double blind peer reviewed. The closing date for submitting papers is 31 May, 2016.

The corresponding Special Editors for this issue are:

  • Tom Mills, University of Bath
  • Narzanin Massoumi, University of Liverpool
  • David Miller, University of Bath

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