September 14, 2011
Terrorism studies remains an "unruly" academic field, but for how long?
Lisa Stampnitzky has been studying what she calls the "unruly field" of terrorism studies for the past few years. In an article published in Qualitative Sociology she identifies two poles toward which those in the field gravitate and, perhaps, the birth pangs of a new scientific discipline.
One camp of scholars in terrorism studies, mostly academics from the social sciences, believes that what counts for security knowledge is too often based on unsubstantiated folk knowledge and impressionistic anecdote. The other camp, populated by security experts with close ties to the state, is largely unconcerned with such critiques, probably because they have secure positions influencing state officials and their policies.
Stampnitzky does not attempt to adjudicate between those who see "'terrorism' as a problem to be made coherent by or for academic analysis" and those who "see it as a practical problem to be combated and eradicated." So, perhaps the most interesting question raised by her paper is left unanswered: where is the field going?
As in many areas of human activity, conflict often correlates with productive dynamism and change. Right now, it appears that many rigorous scientists are trying to bring the field out of the secretive chambers of government where it is treated as a craft and into the open light of scientific inquiry. More power to them.