The ethics of researching ‘terrorism’ and political violence: a sociological approach

Tom Mills, Narzanin Massoumi, David Miller

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

2 Citations (Scopus)
107 Downloads (Pure)


In this article, we propose a sociological model for the assessment of
ethics in research on conflict and terrorism. We move beyond the
rather narrow, procedural approaches that currently dominate
contemporary discussion, seeking to broaden ethical
considerations to include questions of social power, academic
freedom, and the politics of knowledge production, as well as a
consideration of the public function of the university. We argue
that social scientists have both a professional responsibility to
protect the integrity of scientific knowledge, and public
responsibilities to the wider societies of which they are part.
Navigating ethical questions, we suggest, therefore requires a
reflexive engagement with the social conditions of knowledge
production; a careful consideration of the social impact of
research; and a dialogue with a variety of ‘publics’, not merely
policy actors. The main body of the paper reviews the range of
writing on the ethics of ‘terrorism studies’, engages with the
question of institutional oversight and then examines the ethics of
the current ‘impact agenda’ in UK universities. We conclude by
drawing on our empirical findings and applying them to our
proposed model to argue for: a significant revision to ethical
policies and guidelines (and better means of enforcement) so as
to better protect vulnerable research subjects; offer greater
protections to researchers from (especially) powerful interests
which attempt to smear, constrain or undermine independent
research; make unethical research (which we argue is widespread)
more visible, with the intent that it be managed down.
Original languageEnglish
JournalContemporary Social Science
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sep 2019

Structured keywords

  • SPS Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice


  • Terrorism
  • political violence
  • Ethics
  • Research
  • Impact
  • Ethics of impact

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