Lawrence Freedman on Michael C. Desch

In my PhD thesis, I briefly discussed Michael C. Desch’s foray in the late 1990s into the debate between strategic culture and neorealist theorists in international relations. Recently, Desch wrote the book Cult of the Irrelevant: The Waning Influence of Social Science on National Security (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019). Lawrence Freedman’s review of Desch’s book for The Journal of Strategic Studies highlights several things, from Desch’s critique of strategist Thomas Schelling and the institutional impacts on Bernard Brodie’s research agenda to the need for academics to understand the contemporary policymaking environment. It’s a review that is well worth reading if you research in security studies or strategic studies.

A Community of True Believers

Michael Kenney‘s new article for Terrorism and Political Violence combines field work, interviews, ethnographic observation, and causal mechanism analysis to examine “al-Muhajiroun (“the Emigrants”), an outlawed activist network that seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in Britain and the West through activism and proselytizing.” This is an important study on the role of causal beliefs and social learning that uses a “community of practice” model to examine an activist network.

PhD Submission

I submitted my PhD The Development of Strategic Culture in Terrorist Organisations today to Monash University. My thesis is currently under examination. My thanks to PhD Supervisors Pete Lentini, Luke Howie, Zareh Ghazarian, Benjamin MacQueen, and Andy Butfoy for their support, and Michelle Buckley and Tilly for their love and encouragement.

Vega Theory

This week after 8 1/2 years I’m submitting my political science PhD at Monash University to external examiners (update: I did so on 22nd November and my thesis is under examination). Over the past weekend I launched Vega Theory: a new blog about my post PhD research program at the nexus of strategic studies, terrorism studies, political economy and sociology. Follow @vegatheory on Twitter for regular updates. I’ll also be taking on-board the insights I learned over eight years whilst writing for and editing the former subculture search engine Disinformation – from 1999 to 2008 – and how the post-2016 environment has changed.

AIPEN 2020 Abstract

The abstract for a paper (to be written – accepted 29th November 2019) for the Australian International Political Economy Network‘s 11th annual Workshop, to be held at the University of Sydney on 6th and 7th February 2020:

Australia’s Liberal Meritocratic Capitalism and the Political Economy of Mobilisational Counter-Power

City University of New York’s political economist Branko Milanovic (Capitalism, Alone, Harvard University Press, 2019) has argued that Western countries like Australia personify a ‘liberal meritocratic capitalism’ that contrasts with China’s rising one-party ‘political capitalism’. However, Australia is currently experiencing significant social conflicts – illustrated by economic recession fears, corporate wage theft disclosures, inequality-based social stratification, and growth in climate change activist movements like Extinction Rebellion – that highlight divisive tensions in Milanovic’s ‘liberal meritocratic capitalism’. This paper draws on recent PhD qualitative research at Monash University to further develop the political economy microfoundations of an analytical theory of counter-elite driven change: mobilisational counter-power. I use process tracing to explore these significant social conflicts and what they may mean, in particular, for transdisciplinary narratives about ecological crisis, financialisation and labour exploitation.

Keywords: liberal meritocratic capitalism; microfoundations; mobilisational counter-power; political economy; process tracing

SPS Symposium 2019 Abstract

After eight years I’ve just submitted the final talk for my PhD thesis at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences:

Causal Mechanisms for Strategic Subcultures: The Case of Aum Shinrikyo

On 20th March 1995, the Japanese new religious movement Aum Shinrikyo (Aum Supreme Truth) mobilised a sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 13 people and injured several thousand. Why did Aum Shinrikyo carry out this attack, and how did it expect to survive? This presentation critically interrogates this question by using (qualitative) process tracing to examine three interlinked causal mechanisms: (1) the cultural transmission of a religious knowledge base that informed the decision preference for terrorist violence; (2) social learning that led to differential outcomes in terms of social reproduction for the senior leadership (the decision elite) and the religious members (renunciates) who were unaware of Aum Shinrikyo’s covert research program for biological and chemical weapons development; and (3) the cultic milieu folklore which functioned to spread Aum Shinrikyo’s ideas in a crowded marketplace for Japanese new religions, and which was a gatekeeping mechanism for potential members. Further research is also identified.

Keywords: Aum Shinrikyo, causal mechanisms, cultic milieu, process tracing, terrorism, strategic subcultures

Update: Talk PowerPoint slides and recorded audio (30th October 2019) are now available.

Justin Newdigate’s Noise

Being an academic researcher is a performance-oriented profession. For me, some of the most cutting edge thinking about this aspect can be found in performance management. Recently, I have been looking at Justin Newdigate‘s work on Noise as a way to continue to refine my personal processes: chronic and acute, latent and manifest disturbances, interruptions, and disruptions that can interrupt you. What are the sources of noise in your own life and how do you manage them?