Should terrorism research be 'practical'?

This is just one of the questions I've wrestled with as a terrorism researcher. As an applied psychologist, I've long appreciated the value of 'giving things away', but frequently hear academics bemoan the fact that there appears to be an ever-widening gap between those who study and research terrorism and those who actually practice (unenviably) counter-terrorism. Why? Do practitioners even reach out to academics? Is our research even read by those who develop policy for counterterrorism? Do they even know about such research?


When the Society for Terrorism Research (STR) reached out to me to consider our Center hosting their annual conference, I didn't hesitate to push the theme of collaboration and cooperation for counter-terrorism. I think we can all agree that countering terrorism is a good thing. How we do it, why we do it, and whether it works (and at what cost) represents another set of issues entirely.


My friend and colleague Clark McCauley many years ago edited a special issue of Terrorism and Political Violence on terrorism research and public policy. It is time to revisit those and related issues in the context of responding to terrorism. This upcoming conference - to be held right here in Boston - will be an opportunity on the one hand for us to do the usual: to highlight and showcase exciting new academic research on terrorism. But that's not enough. I want us to start having new conversations and get us all out of our comfort zone. Often what prevents academics and CT practitioners from exploring opportunities for engagement is mutual mistrust and suspicion. In some cases, that's certainly warranted. But we want to provide an opportunity and venue to explore a series of issues and questions that may well shape the nature and direction of future engagement.


My plea is simple. I am asking academics, analysts and practitioners alike to get on board, and join the conversation.


Our team at UMass Lowell will join forces with our sister institution UMass Boston to host STR's 2014 Annual Conference. The theme is "Communication & Collaboration for Counter-Terrorism". It will be held in Boston on 17-19 September, 2014. ALL ARE WELCOME. If you are interested - then save the date, and stand by for a call for papers coming soon. In the meantime, check out the flyer here and follow the conference preparations (and send any Qs) via @STRConference14.