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Coloniality, expert knowledges and the 'war on terror': a survey of three think tanks' discourses 2001-2015

Khan, Shehla


Shehla Khan


Bulent Gokay


Informed by the critique of Eurocentrism in the discipline of International Relations, this thesis investigates the relationship between knowledge production defined as expertise, the ‘global war on terror’, and coloniality. It conducts a critical survey of the discourses produced by experts at three leading US think tanks, The Council on Foreign Relations, The RAND Corporation, and The Heritage Foundation on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2015. Casting the experts as purveyors of policy-oriented knowledges, the thesis interrogates their role in instantiating the war, and negotiating its trajectories. It excavates the discourse’s content, rationalities and strategies, and in doing so, disrupts representations of think tank expertise as the detached, technocratic labour of foreign policy interlocutors. Instead, it reconceptualises expertise as the epistemic dimension of US sovereign/imperial power, and foregrounds its constitutive role in the legitimation and prosecution of the war, notably via its embedded attachments to coloniality and Orientalism.

Concomitantly, the thesis draws upon decolonial critiques of Eurocentric knowledge production, which centre the concept of modernity/coloniality, and include think tanks among institutions that sustain and reproduce epistemic forms of dominance associated with European colonial/imperial rule. Juxtaposing the key premises of decolonial critique with a range of critical perspectives in IR and its sub-fields, the thesis interrogates its validity and scope in elucidating the operations of power/knowledge evinced in think tank expertise. While it affirms the broad relevance of decolonial interventions in unmasking Eurocentrism and coloniality in think tank discourses that uphold contemporary empire, it also identifies various lacunae. These stem primarily from the critique’s Atlanticist biases, which elide a fuller appreciation of the Islamicate, and of Orientalism within the trajectories of colonialism, and secondarily from insufficiently rigorous conceptualisations of contemporary world order, and the US’ role within it. It maintains that disciplinary IR needs to address these lacunae to further the decolonial project, notably as it relates in general to articulations of empire in policy-focused knowledges, and in particular to discursive constructions of the ‘war on terror’.

Thesis Type Thesis
Additional Information Embargo on access until 1 August 2024 - The thesis is due for publication, or the author is actively seeking to publish this material.
Award Date 2022-10

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