Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Discourse on Terrorism and Law as Objects of Analysis (Great Footnotes in History)

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This footnote, from Lisa Stampnitzky’s excellent article Disciplining an Unruly Field: Terrorism Experts and Theories of Scientific/Intellectual Production (pdf), deserves some additional attention in its own right, beyond the specifics of the field or terrorism studies:

As I worked on this project, two questions have been posed to me repeatedly: What is terrorism? And who is a terrorism expert? One set of askers takes these questions as the presumed conclusion to my study: what is terrorism, really? And who are (really) terrorism experts? The second set of interlocutors, meanwhile, takes these questions as necessary preliminaries to the study: how do I assign values to these concepts, so that they might be measured and analyzed? The goal of this project is indeed to investigate terrorism, but not in either of the ways presumed above. Rather, the study takes as its object these very questions, asking how and why they have become meaningful.  To clarify, I do not seek to determine who is “really” an expert; the processes through which this question is contested are, rather, the core of what I observe and try to explain. When I speak of “experts,” I refer to the pool of those treated as experts and those hoping/trying to be treated as experts; with “expertise” being the products, findings, knowledge, statements of these populations. [my emphases]

I can relate.  My dissertation research focused on how reformers sought to achieve reform, and how those seeking reform and those seeking to block it contested the boundaries between law and politics in order to legitimate their own positions and delegitimate the other side’s positions.  But what others often either interpreted me as asking, or presumed I should have been asking, was how such efforts impacted judicial decision-making. This was all the more odd since ultimately the litigation was resolved through settlements, which is the norm.  That framework organized much of our thinking about politics, and it’s difficult to break free of it. (I’ve also argued decision-making as a concept is incoherent and undefended, but I’ll save that for another post.)

I think including a statement about how, if at all, your project has been misunderstood would be a valuable thing in books or articles presenting scholarly work that challenges conventional ways of thinking.

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Written by David Kaib

August 22, 2012 at 12:01 pm

One Response

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  1. […] 2) Discourse on Terrorism and Law as Objects of Analysis (Great Footnotes in History) – In social science, “neutrality” generally depends on taking the objects of analysis for granted, meaning accepting conventional ways of framing questions.  This makes for bad analysis, and it also makes it difficult for those of us who are doing something different. […]


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