Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

Sociology and Social Policy

Research Student: Kate Wicker

How is expertise warranted in conditions of uncertain knowledge? An analysis of experts in counter-radicalisation policy networks in the UK

Photo of Kate Wicker

My research is concerned with the role of experts and evidence in public policy-making, particularly in situations where knowledge is uncertain and contested. These themes are particularly pertinent to contemporary counter-terrorism policy in the UK.

My ESRC-funded PhD research focuses on the nature of expertise in ‘radicalisation’ in the UK. Using documentary analysis and interviews, it traces the constitution of coalitions of experts in radicalisation and looks at how expertise is expressed, established and defended in these communities. I am particularly interested in the contestation between experts given the definitional, methodological and analytical uncertainties, complexities and controversies in this area of terrorism studies. Thus, a central question in the project is how, in the context of a range of expert stances on radicalisation concepts, processes and policy implications, particular interpretations and arguments are able to gain precedence in academic and public debates.

I have taught on the Level 1 Sociology and Social Policy module Crime, Deviance and Social Control, and Level 3’s Understanding Interpersonal Violence.

Alongside my PhD research I have spent three months in the Scottish Government’s Justice Analytical Services, completed a research project with Leeds University Union and my PhD colleague Daniel Edmiston, and was a member of the organising committee of the 2011-12 Leeds Social Sciences Institute Seminar Series. With Joshua Skoczylis in the School of Law, I am conducting research into how terrorism studies is taught in higher education in the UK. I am a member of the Terrorism Research Initiative Network UK and the University of Leeds’ Security and Justice Postgraduate Network. I have acted as a reviewer for the Graduate Journal of Social Science and Critical Studies on Terrorism.


  • Monaghan, M., Pawson, R., and Wicker, K. (2012) ‘The Precautionary Principle and Evidence-Based Policy Making’, Evidence and Policy, 8 (2) 171-91
  • Wicker, K., & Connelly, L. (2013). The Practice of Elite Interviewing in Politicised Policy Areas. In SAGE Research Methods Cases. London, United Kingdom: SAGE Publications, Ltd. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/978144627305013509940

Conference presentations:

  • ‘Uncertain knowledge and contestation: Questioning the nature of expertise in radicalisation’, Anticipate and Pre-empt Workshop, 4th-5th March 2013, University of Amsterdam‘
  • 'What makes an ‘expert’? Claiming, conferring and denying authority in the uncertain and contested area of radicalisation’, ESSL Postgraduate Research Conference, 22 March 2013, University of Leeds


Before starting my PhD I worked at York St John University and the Economic and Social Research Council, and I taught English in Japan. I completed a Masters in Social Research at the University of Leeds in 2009 and an undergraduate degree in Politics at the University of Glasgow in 2006.

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