In this talk, I discuss the ethical challenges and dilemmas that arise as a result of state involvement in academic research on ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’. I suggest that researchers and research institutions need to be more attentive to the possibilities of co-option, compromise, conflict of interests and other ethical issues. I empirically examine the relationship between academic researchers and the security state. I highlight 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, I 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. I 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. I conclude by proposing a series of practical measures to address the problems highlighted.
Narzanin is a Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Exeter. Her research focuses on racism, social movements and counter-terrorism. She is currently working on a study researching the impact of counter-terrorism policy and practice on UK higher education. She is co-editor of the book What is Islamophobia? Racism, Social Movements and the State (Pluto Press, 2017) and author of Muslim Women, Social Movements and the ‘War on Terror (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).