Secrecy, coercion and deception in research on ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’


This article calls for more understanding of the ethical challenges and dilemmas that arise as a result of state involvement in academic research on ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’. It suggests that researchers and research institutions need to be more attentive to the possibilities of co-option, compromise, conflict of interests and other ethical issues. The paper empirically examines the relationship between academic researchers and the security state. It highlights three key ways in which ethical and professional standards in social scientific research can be compromised: (1) Interference with the evidence base (through a lack of transparency on data and conflicts of interest); (2) Collaboration on research supporting deception by the state which undermines the ability of citizens to participate in democratic processes; and (3) Collaboration on research legitimating human rights abuses, and other coercive state practices. These issues are widespread, but neglected, across: literature on ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’; literature on research ethics; and, in practical ethical safeguards and procedures within research institutions. In order to address these issues more effectively, we propose that any assessment of research ethics must consider the broader power relations that shape knowledge production as well as the societal impact of research. In focusing on the centrality of states – the most powerful actors in the field of ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ – our approach moves beyond the rather narrow procedural approaches that currently predominate. We argue more attention to the power of the state in research ethics will not only help to make visible, and combat, ethically problematic issues, but will also help to protect the evidence base from contamination. We conclude by proposing a series of practical measures to address the problems highlighted.

Publication DOI:
Divisions: College of Business and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences & Humanities
College of Business and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences & Humanities > Sociology and Policy
College of Business and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences & Humanities > Centre for Critical Inquiry into Society and Culture (CCISC)
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Uncontrolled Keywords: academic freedom,Research ethics,secret research,studying up,terrorism,the public university,History,Social Sciences(all)
Publication ISSN: 2158-2041
Last Modified: 20 May 2024 07:30
Date Deposited: 28 May 2019 14:13
Full Text Link:
Related URLs: https://www.tan ... 41.2019.1616107 (Publisher URL)
http://www.scop ... tnerID=8YFLogxK (Scopus URL)
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2020-04-02
Published Online Date: 2019-05-19
Accepted Date: 2019-04-26
Authors: Massoumi, Narzanin
Mills, Tom (ORCID Profile 0000-0003-1389-7577)
Miller, David



Version: Published Version

License: Creative Commons Attribution

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