Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Crystal Biruk


Terrorism, Counterterrorism, Terrorism expertise, Security, CVE, Radicalization, Universities, Boundary objects, Boundary work


This thesis examines the production and circulation of discourses related to (counter)terrorism at a university-affiliated terrorism and security studies research center in eastern Massachusetts. Drawing on participant observation, documentary analysis, and interviews with faculty and students at the research center, I suggest that expert discourses of (counter)terrorism at the center traffic in an archetypal construction of the terrorist that I call the “depoliticized radical.” This construction locates the root of terrorism in individual morality and psychology, tending to abstract the terrorist from the political conditions in which they enact violence. I further propose that the depoliticized radical functions as a boundary object in Star and Griesemer’s (1989) conception, serving the interests of both expert regimes that take the terrorist as a subject to be known and counterterror regimes that take the terrorist as a subject to be controlled and/or corrected. Through fine-grained case studies, I track the strategic deployment of the depoliticized radical by different actors at the center within distinctive professional contexts. My discussion of the practices by which actors at the center seek to consolidate their expertise within the contested fields of terrorism studies and security studies draws on and develops Gieryn’s (1983) concept of “boundary-work” as a rhetorical and theatrical strategy for demarcating legitimate from illegitimate knowledges. I conclude by contemplating the political stakes of terrorism expertise as a project of knowledge production that seeks to establish the "terrorist" as an archetypal subject to be both known and controlled.

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