Lisa ProfileDr Lisa Stampnitzky

Lecturer in Politics

Contact Details:
Telephone: +44 (0)114 222 1701
Room: G.11


Lisa Stampnitzky joined the department as Lecturer in September 2015. She completed her MA and PhD in Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and has held research fellowships at Oxford, Harvard, Ohio State, and the European University Institute. From 2012-2015 she was Lecturer on Social Studies at Harvard University.

Dr Stampnitzky’s principal research interests lie at the intersection of knowledge, violence, and power, with a particular focus on the production of popular and expert knowledge about war, terrorism, and human rights.

Professional activities and recognition

2017 - 2018 Leverhulme Research Fellowship, "How torture became speakable".

2015 Francesco Guicciardini Prize for Best Book in Historical International Relations, International Studies Association

2015 International Political Sociology Book Award, International Studies Association (co-winner)

2015 Mirra Komarovsky Book Award, Eastern Sociological Society (honourable mention)

2012 President's Book Award, Social Science History Association


My teaching aims to connect social and political theory with “real world” problems. Through making these connections, we can both critically evaluate theory and existing scholarship, and use scholarly frameworks to advance our understanding about the (often tumultuous) state of the world we find ourselves living in.

During the 2018-19 academic year, I will teach the following modules:

PhD Supervision

I am happy to supervise in areas related to security studies, political sociology, and American politics. I am particularly keen to hear from research students focusing on:

  • The intersections of knowledge, violence, and power
  • The politics of expertise
  • Historical and sociological approaches to politics and the state
  • Terrorism and the war on terror
  • The politics of human rights

I am currently supervising the following students:

  • Primary supervisor to Madlen Nikolova - 'Terrorism Expertise and Judicial and Legislative Practices in Bulgaria'.
  • Primary supervisor to Thomas Ormson - 'Military Ethos Initiatives, Counter-terrorism and the Rise of a Youth-based “Vulnerability Discourse” in Great Britain'
  • Secondary supervisor to Adam Ferhani - 'Health (In)Security as Practice' (with first supervisor Simon Rushton)

My research analyzes how understandings of state and non-state violence are politically, socially, and historically constructed.

My first book, Disciplining Terror: How Experts Invented “Terrorism” (Cambridge University Press, 2013), addresses the question of how the contemporary concept of "terrorism" took shape. Through a multi-method study, drawing on historical research, network analysis, and interviews with experts in the field, I establish how both "terrorism" and terrorism expertise were socially and historically constructed. I argue that acts that we now call terrorism, such as hijackings and assassinations, were previously understood through a completely different framework: that of insurgency committed by rational strategic actors. However, as I show, over the course of the 1970s and 1980s, understandings of political violence was overtaken by a new discourse of "terrorism." I find that this transformation was effected through the emergence of a new arena of expertise spanning universities, think tanks, and state agencies. Although popular commentators in the wake of 9/11 often declared that the war on terror represented a sharp break with prior American foreign policy, my book shows that the war on terror built on a set of cultural frameworks about the problem of terrorism that had taken shape since the 1970s.

My current book project, How Torture Became Speakable, aims to explain the puzzle of why the post-9/11 war on terror has been characterized by the open justification of practices that violate human rights norms, such as torture and assassination. While the literature on human rights predicts that states will sometimes fail to abide by the norms they rhetorically affirm, it is expected that this will manifest as hypocrisy, rather than open defiance of such norms. The puzzle, then, is why the US has chosen to openly justify the practices of "harsh interrogation" and "targeted killing," rather than rely on a strategy of denial. Drawing on published memoirs and declassified documents recounting debates on torture and assassination in the Bush and Obama administrations, this project aims to understand the shifting construction of the boundary between the speakable and the unspeakable in moral and political discourse. I argue that this brazenness is best understood as a strategic response to a context in which secrecy and denial have become less practicable than in the past, and, paradoxically, that this shift is due in large part to the rise of the very norms and institutions of human rights themselves.

Publications and Papers

Key Publications

View full bibliography.

- Books

- Journal articles

- Book chapters

  • 2017 “Can Terrorism Be Defined?” (chapter in Constructions of Terrorism, edited by Michael Stohl, Scott Englund, and Richard Burchill, Berkeley: University of California Press.)
  • 2016. "The emergence of terrorism studies as a field" (chapter 2 (pp. 17-27) in Richard Jackson, ed., The Routledge Handbook of Critical Terrorism Studies, New York: Routledge.)
  • 2015 (with Greggor Mattson). "Sociology: Security and Insecurities" (chapter in Philippe Bourbeau, ed., Security: Dialogue Across Disciplines, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)
  • 2015. “Problematic knowledge: How “terrorism” resists expertise” (chapter in Trine Villumsen Berling and Christian Bueger, eds., Security Expertise: Practices, Power and Responsibility, New York: Routledge.)

Invited Talks

  • “How torture became speakable” University of St. Andrews (public lecture at Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence) 8 November 2018
  • “Political violence: Causes, character, and consequences” Oxford University keynote speaker at conference 29 May 2018
  • “Justifying torture in the public sphere” Sciences Po, Center for the Study of Organizations 4 May 2018
  • “Justifying torture in the public sphere” LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York (NEH funded seminar on “Meanings of war: its technologies and aftermaths”)  10 April 2018
  • University of Oxford, Institute for Science Innovation and Society  6/2/2018
  • “How political violence became terrorism” Universite Paris 8. Working group on terrorism and counterterrorism. 13 October 2017
  • “How Political Violence Became Terrorism”, Uppsala University (Uppsala, Sweden), 13 September 2016
  • “How political violence became ‘terrorism,’” 2016 York University (Toronto, ON), Department of Sociology, Annual Lecture,  23 March 2016

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