My research tends to be situated within Critical Security Studies, broadly conceived, and focuses on the construction and impact of security discourses, especially in relation to (counter-)terrorism. Four themes, in particular, structure my work:
(i) Terrorism and/as Political Discourse
One of my major research interests concerns the relationship between political discourse and (in)security. My first book, Times of Terror, which developed an earlier article in the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism, explored the significance of specific temporal imaginaries within the Bush administration’s war on terrorism discourse. A subsequent piece on Gordon Brown’s language on terrorism offered a British comparison. A more recent article with Jack Holland developed this interest further by exploring the endurance of the widespread framing of 9/11 as a moment of temporal discontinuity. In it, we argue that this framing persisted despite the existence of plausible competitor narratives for two primary reasons. First, because it resonated with public experiences of the events which predated this construction’s discursive sedimentation. And, second, because of its vigorous defence by successive US administrations.
A related research interest focuses on terrorism and memory, and particularly Internet memorial sites as a comparatively recent type of memory project. A 2010 article – Remember, Remember 11 September – in Journal of War and Culture Studies attempted to explore the distinctiveness and political implications of this form of mnemonic activity. A 2011 piece – 9/11 Digitally Remastered – in Journal of American Studies built on this, comparing vernacular and official reflections on 9/11’s historical significance. I am currently expanding this work with a new project ‘dead evil’ focusing on the different ways in which ‘terrorists’ are remembered and commemorated after their death. This work follows a coauthored article in Millennium with Jack Holland which explored the narration of the killing of Osama bin Laden within Barack Obama’s administration. Here, we argue that the storying of these events was characterised, first, by considerable discursive continuity with the war on terrorism discourse of George W. Bush, and, second, by a gradual removal or ‘forgetting’ of bin Laden and the circumstances of his death. Each of these dynamics, we suggest, contributed to the legitimisation of his killing, demonstrating the importance of narrative remembrance and forgetting alike for the conduct and justification of liberal violence.
(ii) Critical Terrorism Studies (CTS) and Critical Security Studies (CSS)
A second area of my research focuses on conceptual debates around what a ‘critical’ approach to the study of terrorism and security might involve. In a 2009 article in Security Dialogue I explored two prominent contemporary strategies for contesting more traditional approaches to terrorism research. These related, first, to efforts at centring state terrorism within terrorism studies, and, second, applications of interpretivist ideas to representations or discourses of terrorism. I argued that where each of these ‘faces’ of CTS had potential for addressing the normative limitations of dominant debates around terrorism, interpretivist studies were able also to address their analytical limitations (and especially the tendency to essentialise ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorists’).
This interest in CTS underpinned my second book, which was co-authored with Richard Jackson, Jeroen Gunning and Marie Breen Smyth. This book, Terrorism: A Critical Introduction, explores contemporary and longstanding questions over terrorist violence through a distinctively ‘critical’ prism. It was awarded a 2012 Outstanding Academic Title Award by CHOICE magazine. Articles on the theme of state terrorism also speak to this theme of my research, including one with Michael Lister in Critical Studies on Terrorism, and a forthcoming article in the Journal of Terrorism Research with Stuart MacDonald and Lella Nouri.
Developing this work, I have written a chapter on the threat of al Qaeda for Richard Jackson and Justin Sinclair’s book, Contemporary Debates on Terrorism. In that chapter, I argue that continuing concerns over the threat posed by al Qaeda (whether understood narrowly or broadly) are exaggerated. I contributed a chapter on time, foreign policy and narrative for a 2013 book on Obama’s Foreign Policy edited by Jack Holland and Michelle Bentley. Michael Lister and I also published an article attempting to think through the connections between state terrorism research and critical terrorism studies.
Away from my work on CTS, I have recently published a textbook, titled Security: A Critical Introduction, with Jack Holland. The purpose of this book is to link contemporary debates within Security Studies to broader meta-theoretical, normative and methodological issues within the Philosophy of Social Science, and Political Analysis. It is organised around eight key questions within Security Studies (for example, ‘what is security’, ‘who is or should be security’s referent’), in order to highlight potentially hidden connections between different theoretical traditions and approaches. I also wrote the conclusion for Laura Shepherd’s textbook, Critical Approaches to Security. In that chapter I argue that it is crucial students and scholars remember that research on security comes from somewhere, is produced by someone, and has potentially significant impacts on others.
(iii) Anti-Terrorism, Citizenship and Security in the UK (ATECS)
Much of my research time in the last couple of years has been spent working on the ATECS project with Michael Lister. This project employed a focus group methodology to chart public understandings of contemporary anti-terrorism powers within the UK, on the one hand. And, on the other, to connect these to broader understandings of (and debates around) citizenship and security.
An early piece to come out of this project was our article on Stakeholder Security, which explored the increasing conscription of ‘ordinary’ citizens into the anti-terrorism architecture of contemporary states. Our argument is that this conscription positions citizens simultaneously (and ambiguously) as the object, the subject, and the response to terrorist violence. Or, put otherwise, as the threat, the threatened, and the anti-terrorism technology. A second article from this project was published in the PSA journal: Political Studies. Titled Disconnected Citizenship, this article explores the implications of contemporary British anti-terrorism powers for four interconnected aspects of citizenship: rights, duties, participation and identity. In it, we seek to make three contributions to relevant debate: (i) By approaching the anti-terrorism/citizenship nexus as an experiential/performative relationship in which people’s opinions and understandings matter as much as any formal changes to the law. (ii) By exploring the importance of ethnic identification in this dynamic as much as religious identification on which much recent research focuses; and, (iii) By working with a conception of citizenship that extends beyond the implications of anti-terrorism for citizen rights alone.
Two further articles from this research have also been published. The first, which came out in International Relations in 2013, engages with the different ‘vernacular securities‘ – or public articulations of security – we encountered in our focus group research. Six of these articulations are detailed in the article, in which security was inserted by our participants into quite different interpretative and evaluative frameworks: survival, belonging, hospitality, equality, freedom and insecurity. The article concludes by outlining the political, normative, and policy-related value of further academic research into security and the everyday. In so doing, it argues that without further engagement with public views of security, Security Studies greatly reduces its ability to speak on contemporary sources and drivers of insecurity. A second piece, published in Citizenship Studies, explores the strategies employed by different publics to resist the dampening, depoliticising impacts widely associated with contemporary anti-terrorism powers. Investigating these strategies, we argue, offers a more nuanced understanding of the anti-terrorism/citizenship nexus than is offered in much contemporary debate on the impact of anti-terrorism powers. A more recent article published in the journal Politics expands this work further by charting the different ways publics in our research argued counter-terrorism should proceed.
Beyond these academic articles, we have also published a number of commentary pieces from our focus group findings that can be accessed over in different online forums including Open Democracy, the Muslim Council of Britain, International Studies Today, Eastminster, Democratic Audit and e-International Relations. Michael and I have also recently completed the monograph from this project which was published by Manchester University Press in the summer of 2015. An edited book from this research was also published by Routledge in 2015, titled Critical Perspectives on Counter-Terrorism. In this book our contributors explore the ‘ends’ of counter-terrorism policy: understood in terms of intentions, impacts and temporalities. Michael and I co-authored a chapter in this book drawing on our own research, which explores the sources of knowledge publics turn to in making sense of security politics (from direct and vicarious experience through to news and fictional media).
This is a comparatively new area of my research. In it I am working with scholars including Tom Chen (City University), Stuart Macdonald (Swansea University), Lella Nouri (also Swansea) and Andrew Whiting (Birmingham City University) on issues around the definition, threat, and responses to cyber-terrorist violence. A key feature of this work is its multidisciplinary nature, with colleagues approaching the topic with backgrounds including Engineering and Law. We have been fortunate enough to secure funding from a range of sources for this project, including the EPSRC Bridging the Gaps fund, the ESRC, the NATO Public Diplomacy Programme, the US Office of Naval Research, as well as internal funding from Swansea University. Publications include books with Routledge and Springer, as well as articles in Terrorism and Political Violence, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Perspectives on Terrorism, Journal of Terrorism Research and Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. The first of these articles investigates competing understandings of cyberterrorism within the academic research community. The second evaluates competing perspectives on the threat that cyberterrorism poses: summarised in this short blog piece. Our article in Perspectives on Terrorism charts how the international news media has framed cyberterrorism. This will be built on in a forthcoming piece in Global Society focusing more specifically on the role of analogy and authority claims in cyberterrorism discourse. In 2016, Routledge will publish a new book from this team titled Violent Extremism Online: New Perspectives on Terrorism and the Internet. This book will follow on a forthcoming Special Issue in the journal Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, co-edited with Stuart MacDonald, Anne Aly and Tom Chen.
Further information on this project’s activities – as well as on the research students and interns who have been vital to this work – can be found at the cyber-terrorism project website as well as on this blog post. These activities include conducting a survey of academics and other experts on competing conceptions of cyberterrorism, and completing a global database of definitions of this concept from a range of sources including policy frameworks, legislation, security industry publications, and academic discussions. Further articles and book chapters relating to this area of my work are detailed under my CV, and include contributions to several edited books.
Research in Progress
Beyond the work mentioned above, I am currently involved in a number of other ongoing research projects. These include:
– Prevent and Counter-Radicalisation. This is an edited book which was published in September 2014 in collaboration with Charlotte Heath-Kelly (Warwick University) and Christopher Baker-Beall (Nottingham Trent University). The book comes out of a workshop on this theme we ran at King’s College London in September 2012 under the remit of the BISA Critical Terrorism Studies working group which we convened until September 2014. Charlotte, Chris and I have also co-edited Special Issues of the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism, focusing on neoliberalism and terror (2015) and the practice, limits and experience of Critical Terrorism Studies (2014). The former was also published as a book by Routledge toward the end of 2015.
– Terrorism Proscription. Here I am working with Tim Legrand (Australian National University) on the proscription of terrorist groups in the UK and beyond. The first stage of this project is an attempt at a critical analysis of the proscription process and its underpinning logics. Part of this involves contextualising proscription powers historically vis-a-vis efforts to outlaw previous enemies of the state. An article on this was published in the journal British Politics in 2014. The project’s second stage concentrates on the discursive framing of proscription decisions and efforts to contest these, exploring the role of identity claims therein. A first article from this stage of the research was recently published in the BISA journal: Review of International Studies. Tim and I are currently editing a Special Issue of Terrorism and Political Violence which will bring together a number of the world’s most prominent scholars in this area. We are also completing a funding bid to develop the comparative aspect of this work further, as well as working on articles drawing on securitisation theory and political ritual in relation to proscription.
– Talking Shop. Funded by the UEA Annual Fund, this new research project seeks to bridge politics as an academic discipline and politics as a ‘real world’ activity. I am working on it in collaboration with Michael Lister and Tim Legrand. The project collects responses to the ‘big questions’ within political science from people who have been on the inside of British politics. These responses are published on the project’s publicly accessible, free website.
– Other articles currently in progress include papers on: Emotions and (counter-)terrorism discourse – with Charlotte Heath-Kelly; Video-games, temporality and international politics – with Nick Robinson; Identity and counter-terrorism vernacular discourse – with Michael Lister; and, Legislation as securitisation – with Stuart MacDonald.
– I am also currently co-editing a book for IoS Press with Stuart MacDonald and Maura Conway on Terrorist Use of the Internet. This book comes out of the NATO ARW Workshop on this theme, hosted at Dublin City University in June 2016. The workshop website is available here. I will be contributing a chapter to this book on the gendered dynamics of cyberterrorism discourse in the UK news media.
Reviews of my research
Times of Terror
‘The reader is left persuaded of the need to pay far more attention to how the temporal nature of discourse affects the practice and processes of international politics’, Laura McLeod, Political Studies Review
‘Jarvis’ highly detailed, and at times dense, book is a perfect text not just for scholars and students of critical terrorism studies, but for ‘mainstream’ terrorism studies as well, because it forces the audience to come to terms with how the rhetoric of terrorism can be extremely damaging’, Caron E. Gentry, Millennium: Journal of International Studies
‘Times of Terror is a theoretically sophisticated and well researched monograph. This research not only adds value to current literature in critical terrorism studies, but goes to the heart of how the Bush administration narrated the war on terror. In this regard, by focusing on the manner in which time was represented, Jarvis has struck upon a vital dynamic of what he refers to as the war on terror discourse. This distinguishes this monograph’s research from others that have taken a discursive approach to analysing the war on terror’, Oz Hassan, Critical Studies on Terrorism
‘…provides an interesting perspective on not only the concept of temporality, but also on how intertextuality is created from these source texts and how the framings identified in the analysis were then picked up by the media. However, its main contribution to the analysis of political discourse about the War on Terror lies in the philosophical sophistication of its central argument and in the attention to detail that is brought forth through the temporal dichotomies that are identified in the discursive construction of events’, Discourse & Communication
Terrorism: A Critical Introduction
‘[A]n innovative book that is designed to change how we teach and research terrorism… [it] brings a fresh and well-developed alternative to the traditional literature… A great strength of the book is the way in which it challenges academics writing in this field to be reflective about their analytical categories and normative commitments.’ – Tim Dunne, International Affairs
‘[T]he authors have very successfully achieved their goal of broadening and deepening the field of terrorism studies, providing an important resource and stimulus for further critical engagement with the theoretical and empirical issues related to terrorism’, Kathryn Fisher, Millennium: Journal of International Studies
‘Over the last decade, a number of very good books on the study of terrorism have come to the fore. However, the current entry by Jackson et al. is at the very top of the list in terms of comprehensiveness and usefulness… [T]his authoritative book provides incredible insight into and analysis of both the myths and the realities surrounding terrorism—from early days to the present. In short, this book’s scope, focus, and critical assessment are long overdue in the literature’, W. Jakub, CHOICE