“Terrorism” has proved to be a highly problematic object of expertise. Terrorism studies fails to conform to the most common sociological notions of what a field of intellectual production ought to look like, and has been described by participants and observers alike as a failure. Yet the study of terrorism is a booming field, whether measured in terms of funding, publications, or numbers of aspiring experts. This paper aims to explain, first, the disjuncture between terrorism studies in practice and the sociological literature on fields of intellectual production, and, second, the reasons for experts’ “rhetoric of failure” about their field. I suggest that terrorism studies, rather than conforming to the notion of an ideal-typical profession, discipline, or bounded “intellectual field,” instead represents an interstitial space of knowledge production. I further argue that the “rhetoric of failure” can be understood as a strategy through which terrorism researchers mobilize sociological theories of scientific/cultural fields as both an interpretive resource in their attempts to make sense of the apparent oddness of their field and their situation, and as schemas, or models, in their attempts to reshape the field. I conclude that sociologists ought to expand our vision to incorporate the many arenas of expertise that occupy interstitial spaces, moving and travelling between multiple fields.
Disciplining an Unruly Field: Terrorism Experts and Theories of Scientific/Intellectual ProductionDownload pdf