PhD Original Contributions to Field of Study

This weekend I’m preparing my Pre-Submission Seminar / Final Review slides for Monash University. I will give a presentation on 14th November to an academic panel. I’ve also started an ARC DECRA application for future submission. Below are some thoughts on my PhD’s original contributions to my field of study (counter-terrorism):

  • ‘Fourth Generation’ Strategic Culture: My PhD dissertation has conceptualised a fourth generation of strategic culture theory-building that is closely linked to national security concerns, occurs in a multipolar world, and considers a broader range of instruments beyond military force such as economic statecraft.
  • Strategic Subcultures in Terrorist Organisations: My PhD dissertation has developed and tested a new conceptual theory on strategic subcultures in terrorist organisations. I have developed empirical tests for an expanded case universe.
  • TheoryBuilding and Theory-Testing: My pre-doctoral research used theory-building and theory-testing to critically evaluate a range of theories in journalism, media studies, and internet sociology. In particular, I have recently paid attention to the evolution of ideas and ideologies into mobilised political and religious violence.
  • Methodological Advancement in Qualitative, Causal Analysis: My PhD research and recent scholarship combines theory-building and theory-testing forms of process tracing with counterfactuals and event studies. I am presently exploring the Bayesian and set-theoretic roots of process tracing and other causal inference methodologies.
  • Event Studies: Over my pre-doctoral, and doctoral research career, I have authored and co-authored a range of qualitative event studies, notably on the journalism, media, and grand strategy impacts of the September 11 terrorist attacks on Australia and the United States, and the social media network Twitter’s role in Iran’s 2009 election crisis.

I will submit my PhD to Monash University on 22nd July 2019 for review.

What I’m Reading

Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them edited by Joseph E. Uscinski (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018). My PhD case study Aum Shinrikyo was deeply influenced by anti-Semitic and power elite conspiracy theories, some from far right and evangelical Christian sources. Uscinski’s collection is a useful guide to the current political and sociological debates about conspiracy theories and their priming effects for extremist worldviews that may lead to political violence.

The Unrules: Man, Machines, and the Quest to Master Markets by Igor Tulchinsky (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2018). In the eighties and nineties, Russian mathematicians and physicists came to Wall Street. Tulchinsky was one of them. His asset management firm WorldQuant adopted many aspects of neoliberal capitalism, from competitive tournaments to traders as independent contractors. This memoir is a quant’s view of how to deal with contemporary information.

The Pac-Man Principle: A User’s Guide to Capitalism by Alex Wade (Zero Books, 2018). Here’s my interpretation of Pac-Man ludology and neoliberal capitalism: (i) the maze represents the situational environment; (ii) the Pac-Man character engages in consumption (or, capital accumulation); (iii) the power pills represent momentary escalation dominance over the four ghosts; and (iv) the maze exits represent the fetish of false escapes. Other video-games may lead to different interpretations of neoliberal capitalism’s political economy.

Monash University SPS HDR Symposium 2018 Talk Slides

Tomorrow, I’m giving a talk at Monash University’s SPS HDR Symposium 2018 about my on-going PhD research:

Room: H2.38, Caulfield campus

Time: 2pm-3pm timeslot

You can read the talk’s abstract here. The talk’s slides are here.

Update: You can download the talk’s audio here. There was also a great Q&A later in the session: thanks to everyone who attended for their helpful feedback.

Monash University SPS HDR Symposium 2018 Abstract

Presentation title: The Ethical Collapse of Aum Shinrikyo

Name: Alexander (Alex) George Burns

Discipline: Terrorism Studies

Key words: Aum Shinrikyo, Shambhala Plan, strategic culture, coercion practices, ethical collapse

Abstract: On 6th July 2018 the Japanese Government executed Aum Shinrikyo’s founder Shoko Asahara (born Chizuo Matsumoto) and six senior members of the Buddhist Tantra Vajrayana and Hindu-influenced religious cult. Six further members were executed on 26th July 2018. Aum Shinrikyo achieved notoriety for its sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subway on 20th March 1995, which killed 13 people and injured 6000 others. This presentation synthesises relevant insights from the sub-fields of strategic culture and terrorism studies to examine Aum Shinrikyo from a new perspective: its initial rise, its ethical collapse, and its subsequent descent into terrorist violence (via its secretive development of chemical and biological weapons development that was compartmentalised to the upper echelons of the organisation). The specific coercion practices which occurred in Aum Shinrikyo that bound together its leadership and renunciate followers are identified and summarised. The religious cult’s utopian Shambhala Plan is reinterpreted in terms of: (i) fulfilling Asahara’s adverse experiences, career ambitions, and life chances, and (ii) facilitating both elite circulation and social mobility of its senior members at the expense of its renunciate followers, and in the broader socio-economic context of Japan’s ‘lost decades’ of deflationary growth. The combination of coercion practices and ethical collapse means that Aum Shinrikyo now has a greater significance beyond terrorism studies: the religious cult can be related to other potential case studies such as Enron, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Theranos, and the Madoff Ponzi scheme fraud.

Disinformation’s End

I heard today that the alternative news website Disinformation has ceased publication due to legal reasons. I began writing for Disinformation from around July 1998 at the invitation of co-founder Richard Metzger. I did two editorial stints: (1) November 1999 to August 2002, and (2) April 2003 to February 2008. (Russ Kick edited the site in the interim period.) I witnessed a range of events from the 2000 Dotcom crash and September 11 to the George W. Bush presidency and the onset of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis or Great Recession. Richard Metzger the creative force behind the site’s classic period – and book and television projects – left in 2005 and now publishes the blog Dangerous Minds. Many of the writers who I worked with —- Russ Kick, Nick Mamatas, Roy Christopher, Preston Peet, Jason Louv, Klint Finley, Douglas McDaniel, and Cletus Nelson amongst others —- have all gone on to greater things. This material is on Archive.org. Thanks to Richard Metzger, Gary Baddeley, and Ralph Bernardo for the opportunity to work with you.

What I’m Reading

  1. Russian ‘Hybrid Warfare’: Resurgence and Politicization by Ofer Fridman (Oxford University Press, 2018). Hybrid war using non-military means and the operational codes of Vladimir Putin’s networks are two ways to update Jack Snyder’s original work on strategic culture for what I call fourth generation scholarship. Fridman’s book examines rival conceptual definitions of what hybrid war is – and how political elites in Russia and the United States have incentivised the concept.
  2. Extremism by J.M. Berger (The MIT Press, 2018). I’ve spent part of my in-progress dissertation trying to develop a causal model of belief adoption about violence that leads strategic actors to prefer terrorist tactics as a means to pursue strategic goals. Berger’s scholarship is critical to this aim, and he draws on George Washington University’s Haroro J. Ingram, who is a rising star about violent extremism in policy-making circles.
  3. Negative Capitalism: Cynicism in the Neoliberal Era  by J.D. Taylor (Zero Books, 2013). In studying Aum Shinrikyo for my in-progress dissertation I’ve made political economy connections with Japan’s ‘lost decades’ of macroeconomic deflation and debt leverage. In many ways Japan’s sociopolitical experience foreshadowed the Great Recession or Global Financial Crisis that has affected the West since 2008. Taylor’s book reflects the United Kingdom experience with neoliberal austerity policies and is bracing to read.
  4. Alpha God: The Psychology of Religious Violence And Oppression by Hector A. Garcia (Random House, 2015). Several years ago Max Taylor suggested that counterterrorism analysts study evolutionary psychology to understand distal and diachronic influences on terrorists. Garcia’s book suggests a range of infra- and inter-group dynamics that could be used for qualitative coding of the terrorism studies literature.

Reading List For Early Career Researchers

Career Development

 

The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your PhD Into A Job by Karen Kelsky (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2015). An influential guide to academic career paths including Post-Docs, ‘post-ac’ (post-academic) and alt-ac (alternative academic) options. Kelsky also runs TheProfessorIsIn.com blog and consulting / seminar services.

 

Successful Careers Beyond the Lab by David J. Bennett and Richard C. Jennings (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017). How research and scientific training can open up diverse ‘post-ac’ (post-academic) career pathways in government and industry.

 

A PhD Is Not Enough! A Guide to Survival in Science by Peter J. Feibelman (New York: Basic Books, 2011). A classic guide to managing Post-Doctoral careers in science: advice on career planning, research programs, grants, and publications.

 

Promotion and Tenure Confidential by David D. Perlmutter (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). A ‘behind closed doors’ look at how promotion and tenure processes actually work.

 

“So What Are You Going To Do With That?”: Finding Careers Outside Academia (3rd ed.) by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2014). An influential guide to ‘post-ac’ (post-academic) careers, such as working in industry.

 

Tenure Hacks: The 12 Secrets of Making Tenure by Russell James (Seattle, WA: CreateSpace, 2014). A candid guide on how to gain tenure at a research university in the United States system.

 

How To Be An Academic: The Thesis Whisperer Reveals All by Inger Mewburn (Sydney: NewSouth, 2017). Career development strategies to navigate the Early Career Researcher stage and the higher education sector.

 

Grant Writing

 

Get Funded: An Insider’s Guide to Building An Academic Research Program by Robert J. Trew (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017). Grant writing in the context of research program development: includes discussion of the United States-based National Science Foundation Career grants.

 

Having Success With NSF: A Practical Guide by Ping Li and Karen Marrongelle (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012). A guide to getting United States-based National Science Foundation grants.

 

How The NIH Can Help You Get Funded: An Insider’s Guide to Grant Strategy by Michelle L. Kienholz and Jeremy M. Berg (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). A guide to getting United States-based National Institutes of Health grants.

 

Writing Successful Science Proposals (2nd ed.) by Andrew J. Friedland and Carol L. Folt (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009). A nuts and bolts guide to what a successful grant proposal needs, informed by the authors’ experience with the United States-based National Institutes of Health and other grant-making organisations.

 

Intellectual Property

 

From Innovation to Cash Flows: Value Creation by Structuring High Technology Alliances by Constance Lutolf-Carroll, Antti Pirnes, and Withers LLP (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009). How intellectual property as an asset class underpins the value creation models of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

 

Intellectual Property: A Very Short Introduction by Siva Vaidhyanathan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). How intellectual property works, from a culture / media perspective.

 

Intellectual Property Strategy by John Palfrey (Boston, MA: The MIT Press, 2011). Intellectual property as an asset class, its main types, and how ‘freedom to operate’ works.

 

Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy by Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017). Situates intellectual property in the economic context of the growth in intangible assets and the companies that develop and defend their intellectual property portfolios.

 

Project Management

 

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (rev. ed.) by David Allen (New York: Penguin, 2015). A primer on Allen’s influential GTD system for time and task management.

 

Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management by Scott Berkun (Sebastapol, CA: O’Reilly, 2008). Lessons from Microsoft and other companies on effective project management.

 

Scaling Up: How A Few Companies Make It . . . And The Rest Don’t! by Verne Harnish (Ashburn, VA: Gazelles, 2014). New venture lessons on managing people, strategy, execution, and cash.

 

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice The Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland (New York: Crown Business, 2014). A guide to the Scrum agile development / project management system by co-creator Jeff Sutherland.

 

Publishing

 

Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors and Publishers by Scott Norton (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011). Explains how the developmental editing process works from a university press viewpoint and the processes involved.

 

Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars And Anyone Else Serious About Serious Books (3rd ed.) by William Germano (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2016). Demystifies the pre-publication processes involved for dealing with university presses. Germano’s companion book From Dissertation To Book (2nd ed) (Chicago, IL: University of Press, 2013) deals with how to publish your PhD dissertation.

 

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker (New York: Penguin Books, 2015). A linguistic analysis of how grammar and clear writing works: an update to William Strunk Jr and E.B. White’s influential book The Elements of Style (4th ed) (New York: Pearson, 1999).

 

Write No Matter What: Advice For Academics by Joli Jensen (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017). Strategies for how to maintain a consistent writing schedule: how to deal proactively with life, project, and institutional challenges to stay on track.

 

Writing Your Journal Article In 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success by Wendy Laura Belcher (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2009). A step-by-step template guide to writing a journal article and managing the writing process.

 

The Business of Being A Writer by Jane Friedman (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2018). A guide to commercial academic publishing and career development strategies for new academic writers.

 

Becoming An Academic Writer: 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive and Powerful Writing by Patricia Goodson (Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2017). Self-paced developmental exercises for academic writing and specific sections of an academic journal article or dissertation.