The Evolution of Targeted Killing: JCU Welcomes Simon Frankel Pratt

On October 30, JCU welcomed Simon Frankel Pratt, Lecturer at the University of Melbourne for a conversation on his book Normative Transformation and the War on Terrorism: The Evolution of Targeted Killing, Torture, and Private Military Contracting (Cambridge University Press, 2022). The talk was organized by JCU’s Department of Political Science and International Affairs in collaboration with JCU’s Model United Nations Society to be part of the “Rome Security Dialogues.”

Simon Frankel Pratt
Simon Frankel Pratt

Pratt discussed his recent book Normative Transformation and the War on Terrorism, a historical examination of the rise of targeted killing, torture, and private military contracting. In his talk, Pratt presented a new approach to thinking about norms and normativity, and about the ways something once prohibited can later become permissible or even institutionalized and commonplace. Drawing on pragmatist philosophy and relational social theory, Pratt outlined how “normative configurations” can transform over time as a result of discursive, technological, and organizational mechanisms.

Pratt presented a case study from the book: the case of targeted killing (and of the prohibition on assassination). Pratt shows that developments in unmanned aerial systems technologies played an important role but were only part of the story. Just as important were the ways actors in favor of targeted killing policies were able to out-maneuver those opposed, within the CIA and in other parts of the US’s security apparatus. Moreover, legal and rhetorical shifts were also necessary for the practice to develop and become routinized.

Pratt concluded with a Q&A in which attendees were encouraged to link the contents of the book to more recent and emerging trends in the US and global geopolitics.

Pratt holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and has also been a lecturer at the University of Bristol, UK, and Georgetown University’s Mortara Center for International Studies. His field of research focuses on institutional change, strategic innovation, and normative evolution in national and international security sectors. Pratt is currently a Lecturer in Political Science at the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne and he is working on a project examining the private intelligence industry and government contracting practices.