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6339A5D4-FD64-41FD-976F-D0A7AA827D6CLisa Stampnitzky is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Sheffield, and earned her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of California at Berkeley.

My current book project, How Torture Became Speakable, examines the transformation of torture from an unspeakable evil to a legitimate policy option in the U.S. after 2001.  After 9/11, state officials sought to develop an explicit legal framework to support the use of practices such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and physical confinement– practices that, when used by other nations, have generally been understood as torture. But why construct an explicit legal architecture for practices which, until recently, if engaged in at all, would have been subject to the highest levels of secrecy, and certainly not documented by lawyers? And how can we square this development with the spread of human rights norms over the course of the 20th century, which explicitly sought to make such practices unacceptable? This project traces the open resurgence of what I call “forbidden practices”: referring here to not just the use of practices which defy international law and norms of human rights, such as torture, assassination, and indefinite detention, but the fact that such practices have been openly acknowledged and defended by the states that use them. It speaks to a number of broader themes, including the shifting construction of the boundary between that which is secret and that which is known, the relation between the cultural and legal spheres, and the relation between morality, politics, and the state.  This project is funded by a 2017-18 Leverhulme research fellowship.

My first book, Disciplining Terror: How Experts Invented “Terrorism” (Cambridge, 2013), traces the emergence of the field of terrorism expertise, and the contemporary notion of “terrorism.”

recent interviews and writing

“Can terrorism be defined?” (chapter in Constructions of Terrorism, edited by Michael Stohl, Scott Englund, and Richard Burchill,  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017.)

“The Lawyers’ War” The Sociological Review, April 2016

“Fake Terrorism Experts” (Policy Trajectories blog)

“The Illogic of Networks” (part of Boston Review forum “Islam on Trial”)

Interview with BBC Mundo

Interview with Tanqeed

Interview with Sustainable Security 


recorded talks

10/10/14 “How political violence became terrorism” at John Jay College, City University of New York  (video)

12/3/15 “Can terrorism be defined?”  at “Constructions of Terrorism” Conference, University of California, Santa Barbara video



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