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.