A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Researcher Spotlight: Kelly Damphousse


Researcher Spotlight: Kelly Damphousse

August 29, 2012Mary Beck

This month's Researcher Spotlight features Kelly Damphousse, who not only conducts research for START but also serves as Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oklahoma, where he is a President's Associates Presidential Professor of Sociology. Born in Alberta, Canada, Damphousse talked about how he went from dreaming about being an NHL goalie to informing the counterterrorism community with his research.

Describe your educational background?

Growing up in Canada, my whole life I wanted to be a goalie in the NHL or be a Mountie with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. When I graduated high school, I knew the hockey thing wasn't going to happen, so I went to a junior college in Canada to get a law enforcement diploma. The plan was to go there for two years and then become a Mountie but when I graduated, and couldn't get a job as a police officer, I began working in a prison. While I was working there, one of my former instructors talked me into going to school in the States to get a criminal justice degree, in hopes that I would return to Canada and become a Mountie. I sold everything I had, bought a motorcycle and drove down to Texas for school at Sam Houston State University. There, I earned my Bachelor of Science in criminal justice. A few years later, my wife talked me into applying to graduate school and I went to Texas A&M University, where I earned my master's degree and a Ph.D. in sociology in 1994.

What drew you to researching terrorism?

I didn't do terrorism research in grad school -- I was a drugs and crime researcher.. I took my first job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and my boss there was Dr. Brent Smith, who was one of the few criminologists studying terrorism back before the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Before meeting him, I didn't even know that terrorism research existed as a field of scholarly research. We published our first paper together in 1996 and later got some money from the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism to expanded our data collection and create a project called the American Terrorism Study.

What hobbies do you have outside of researching?

I have a couple of daughters, and I spend a lot of time with them. I'm a distance bike rider and will go on 100 km bike rides.

In all of your research, what has been the most interesting or most rewarding project?

I really think a lot of the stuff I've done in terrorism, especially some of the stuff funded by START, has been the most rewarding because I think it's work that has the potential to be used by people trying to fight terrorism. Some of the research Brent and I were doing before we got involved with START had a lot to do with the prosecution of terrorism by the federal court system. I feel like federal prosecutors and even federal investigators can use the American Terrorism Study data to better understand the outcomes of certain prosecution strategies. Currently with START, we're working to integrate relevant databases, and I think that will be useful for analysts. I'm really grateful to be part of that effort. I feel like, in some ways, the research that I'm doing with START makes me a little bit of a counterterrorism professional, in that I'm actually helping the counterterrorism community do its job better.

What is the best advice you could offer to a young researcher?

Never say no. I was not really interested in terrorism research when I first met Brent. I had been trained in the drugs and crime nexus and saw myself as more of a social psychologist. If I had ignored his request and continued on my narrow focus, I would never have gotten involved in terrorism research and my career would have been much less interesting. Getting to work with folks like Brent Smith, Gary LaFree, Steve Chermak, Josh Freilich, and all the other START researchers has changed my life for good, in every sense of that word.

What kinds of research projects do you hope to tackle in the future?

One of the things we're trying to do right now is to better understand the radicalization process. How do people who are upset with the current situation, how do they get from what I always call the "here to the there"? How do they get from being just like everyone who's upset about something to actually engaging in direct action? I'm really interested in that process and that's something we haven't looked too much at right now. The Researcher Spotlight is a monthly Q&A series designed to profile START researchers and staff for their accomplishments and personal journey to the field of terrorism studies. To nominate consortium researchers or staff members for consideration, email infostart@start.umd.edu with Researcher Spotlight Suggestion in the subject line.