Participant Info

First Name
Last Name
United Kingdom
University of Sheffield
terrorism, political violence, war on terror, expertise, terrorism experts, torture, human rights, international law, international norms, political discourse
Media Contact

Personal Info

About Me

Dr Stampnitzky’s principal research interests lie at the intersection of knowledge, violence, and power, with a particular focus on the production of popular and expert knowledge about war, terrorism, and human rights.

My first book, Disciplining Terror: How Experts Invented “Terrorism” (Cambridge University Press, 2013), addresses the question of how the contemporary concept of “terrorism” took shape. Through a multi-method study, drawing on historical research, network analysis, and interviews with experts in the field, I establish how both “terrorism” and terrorism expertise were socially and historically constructed. I argue that acts that we now call terrorism, such as hijackings and assassinations, were previously understood through a completely different framework: that of insurgency committed by rational strategic actors. However, as I show, over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, understandings of political violence was overtaken by a new discourse of “terrorism.” I find that this transformation was effected through the emergence of a new arena of expertise spanning universities, think tanks, and state agencies. Although popular commentators in the wake of 9/11 often declared that the war on terror represented a sharp break with prior American foreign policy, my book shows that the war on terror built on a set of cultural frameworks about the problem of terrorism that had taken shape since the 1970s.

My current book project, How Torture Became Speakable, aims to explain the puzzle of why the post-9/11 war on terror has been characterized by the open justification of practices that violate human rights norms, such as torture and assassination. While the literature on human rights predicts that states will sometimes fail to abide by the norms they rhetorically affirm, it is expected that this will manifest as hypocrisy, rather than open defiance of such norms. The puzzle, then, is why the US has chosen to openly justify the practices of “harsh interrogation” and “targeted killing,” rather than rely on a strategy of denial. Drawing on published memoirs and declassified documents recounting debates on torture and assassination in the Bush and Obama administrations, this project aims to understand the shifting construction of the boundary between the speakable and the unspeakable in moral and political discourse. I argue that this brazenness is best understood as a strategic response to a context in which secrecy and denial have become less practicable than in the past, and, paradoxically, that this shift is due in large part to the rise of the very norms and institutions of human rights themselves.

Recent Publications


  1. Disciplining terror: How experts invented “terrorism” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Peer-reviewed journal articles 

Forthcoming, 2016.  “The lawyers’ war: states and human rights in a transnational field.”  The Sociological Review, April 2016

  1. “Experts, États et théorie des champs. Quelques leçons tirées d’une sociologie de l’expertise sur le terrorisme” Critique Internationale 59: April-June 2013, pp. 89-     104.   (in French, English version available upon request).

­­­­­­­­­­­­2011. “Disciplining an unruly field: Terrorism experts and theories of scientific/    intellectual production” Qualitative Sociology  34:1, pp.1-19.

Book chapters

Forthcoming, 2016.  “The emergence of terrorism studies as a field” (chapter in  Richard Jackson, ed., The Routledge Handbook of Critical Terrorism Studies,  New York: Routledge.)

  1. (with Greggor Mattson). “Sociology: Security and Insecurities” (chapter in  Philippe Bourbeau, ed., Security: Dialogue Across Disciplines, Cambridge:       Cambridge University Press.)
  1. “Problematic knowledge: How “terrorism” resists expertise” (chapter in Trine Villumsen Berling and Christian Bueger, eds., Security Expertise: Practices,    Power and Responsibility, New York: Routledge.)


Media Coverage

Television/radio interviews:

“Presenter’s friend” on BBC Radio 5: special show on Paris 11/13/15 attacks 11/16/15

“Radio Boston:  Was the Charleston Massacre an Act of Terrorism?”  (WBUR) 6/22/15

“Marginalia Review of Books” (Los Angeles Review of Books podcast) 3/31/15

“American Muslim 360” (online) 3/26/15

“Democracy Now!” (NPR/Pacifica) 1/13/2015

“Breaking the Set” (RT America)10/8/2013

“Thinking Allowed” (BBC Radio4) 7/10/2013


Quoted/ research discussed in:

Tikkun Magazine  “Our Morbid Gaze: Terrorism as Entertainment” Winter 2016

The Globe and Mail “Questions surround reluctance to label Charleston shooting as          ‘terrorism'” 6/19/15

The Intercept “Refusal to Call Charleston Shootings “Terrorism” Again Shows It’s a        Meaningless Propaganda Term” 6/19/2015

The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Terrorism experts sought by public but not by          academe” 6/24/2013

The Guardian, “Andrew Sullivan, terrorism, and the art of distortion” 5/25/2013, “The sham ‘terrorism expert’ industry,” 8/15/12

Country Focus

Research Areas

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