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

Narzanin Massoumi, Tom Mills, David Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

184 Downloads (Pure)


The current focus in ethical discourse is mostly on protecting research subjects from potential harm arising directly from participation in research (Hammersley & Traianou, 2012). Researching conflict and ‘terrorism’ poses particular challenges around accessing research subjects and meeting standard requirements for informed consent. But there are also distinct and broader ethical questions that arise around potential harm to research subjects, and indeed to other actors, including researchers themselves. Fieldwork may pose considerable risks to researchers, both physical and psychological, whilst the politically sensitive nature of research may also carry reputational and professional risks. Harm to research subjects, meanwhile, may arise not only from the research process itself, but more broadly and more significantly from powerful actors – often parties to the conflicts under investigation – seeking to access, make use of, or influence/manipulate either research findings, or how research is received, understood and used. The former aspects bring particular challenges when it comes to confidentiality and the security of data, whilst the latter requires that the societal impact of research be carefully considered. In either case, an understanding of social power, and the power of the state in particular, is crucial. The power of corporations is, of course, also of relevance in such discussions (Alvesalo-Kuusi and Whyte, 2018), although it is not the focus of this article.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalContemporary Social Science
Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2019

Structured keywords

  • SPS Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice


  • Terrorism
  • Extremism
  • Ethics
  • Coercion
  • Deception

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