20 years ago, Australia’s Marketing Magazine published my first cover-story: The Advertising Virus on advertising and memes. The article featured interviews with Richard Brodie, and Spiral Dynamics authors Don Edward Beck and Chris Cowan. I later republished the article on the Disinformation website (archived here with some dead links). It will be featured in my forthcoming ebook of 1994-97 New Journalism, Personal Mythologists.
Kings College London’s Abdullah Bin Khaled Al Saud has a new article in Terrorism and Political Violence journal on Islamic State’s activities in Saudi Arabia. The abstract:
The self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) has never ceased targeting, verbally and physically, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. While it might be easy to know why, it is harder, but more important, to understand how. Since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the establishment of a wilaya (province) in the land of the two Holy Mosques in November 2014, thirty-two IS-linked terrorist operations took place in Saudi Arabia. Based on primary source materials produced by IS, and an examination of its footprint in Saudi Arabia, this article explains the calculus behind IS’s strategy and objectives in Saudi, shows the main themes of its narrative and how it tailors its strategic communications campaign to the specific historical and social context of the country, and illustrates how it tries to exploit and claim the Saudi religious heritage. The article also examines to what extent IS’s activities and operations reflect its rhetoric and purported strategy, describes the structure it adopts inside the Kingdom, and demonstrates why the momentum of its violent campaign has faltered in recent months.
On Wednesday, I’m giving a snapshot presentation on Conceptualising Fourth Generation Strategic Culture for the Monash SPS Symposium. This covers material from my PhD’s Chapter 1. It also covers some further development of my research program. Thanks to the SPS Symposium committee for organising the event.
Disciple: Strategic Studies, Terrorism Studies.
Key words: strategic culture, research program, conceptual framework
Abstract: Strategic culture emerged from United States think tanks in the late 1970s as a comparative framework in strategic studies. Early proponents such as Jack Snyder, Colin S. Gray, and Ken Booth each sought to understand foreign decision-making on the use of force. In 1995, Harvard University’s Alastair Iain Johnston conceptualised three generations of strategic culture theory-building in an influential International Security journal article called ‘Thinking About Strategic Culture’.
This presentation (1) responds to Johnston’s framework to explore issues of generational selection, change, and continuity; and (2) proposes a new fourth generation that I trace to Jeffrey S. Lantis’ ‘constructivist’ turn in 2002. Lantis’ research and active sub-field building (such as with the United States-based Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the International Studies Association) involves national security policymakers using strategic culture to understand emerging trans-national security threats in a possibly multipolar world.
I outline a developing research program which develops strategic culture frameworks, qualitative case studies, and causal inference methods. Current research focuses on the possibility of strategic culture in terrorist organisations. Recent developments in (nuclear) complex deterrence, economic statecraft, and terrorism studies provide the necessary and sufficient context for strategic culture research to have greater policymaker relevance.
Recently, I had a Facebook thread exchange with Maree Conway and Stephen McGrail on the future of universities. The default, neoliberal future seems to be a small professoriate and senior management with defined benefit superannuation plans, and a large contract-based pool of academic and administrative contingent labour. It’s less an Ivory Tower and more like the ‘labour hire’ model of private equity firms.
My preferred future is one based in part on knowledge and skills-based talent. There’s still room in this vision for teaching excellence and for intangible asset-based revenue streams from intellectual property rights. The model is Hollywood: Entourage and Michael Clayton perhaps with a dose of Better Call Saul. I explored this world for about 8 years whilst at Australia’s Victoria University working first on academic research program development and then on managing research contracts.
Violaine Roussel’s new study Representing Talent: Hollywood Agents and the Making of Movies (Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017) offers a detailed model of how talent management functions. Her book includes a study of the initiatory pathway that new agents undergo in Hollywood and when they join a creative agency. It also discusses skills cultivation and negotiation strategies. As a situated ethnography it will be helpful for research managers who want to bridge Hollywood and Harvard, and who desire to make some good deals.
Shannon C. Houck, Meredith A. Repke, and Lucian Gideon Conway III have a new article in the Journal of Policing, Intelligence, and Counter Terrorism about effective terrorist propaganda. Here’s the abstract:
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) became an increasingly powerful terrorist organisation in a relatively short period of time, drawing more recruits than its former affiliate, Al Qaeda. Many have attributed ISIL’s successful expansion in part to its extensive propaganda platform. But what causes terrorist groups to be effective in their communication to the public? To investigate, we examined one aspect of terrorists’ rhetoric: Integrative complexity. In particular, this historical examination provides a broad integrative complexity analysis of public statements released by key members of ISIL and Al Qaeda over a 10-year period when ISIL was rapidly growing as a terrorist entity (2004–2014). Findings revealed that (a) ISIL demonstrated less complexity overall than Al Qaeda (p < .001) and (b) ISIL became increasingly less complex over this focal time period (p < .001), while Al Qaeda’s complexity remained comparatively stable (p = .69). Taken together, these data suggest that as ISIL grew in size and strength between 2004 and 2014 – surpassing Al Qaeda on multiple domains such as recruitment, monetary resources, territorial control, and arms power – it simultaneously became less complex in its communication to the public.
The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. (TS-3). Recommended to me in 1997 by Spiral Dynamics creators Don Edward Beck and Chris Cowan. Csikzentmihalyi’s sequel to his earlier book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (#17J) makes the case for mindful, directed, psychecentric evolution. A bridge between Anton LaVey’s Indulgence, Michael A. Aquino’s Xeper, and the self-transformative orientation of Martin Seligman’s positive psychology.
Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman. New York: Basic Books, 2013. (TS-3). Kaufman is director of the Imagination Institute and a positive psychology researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. In this book he argues for the Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory of ‘fluid’ intelligence and for the benefits of holistic education. Kaufman explores and evaluates cognitive theories of creativity, learning, skills-building, and talent development. A useful primer on how current debates about human intelligence are redefining education. For some initial considerations of these implications see my Fluid Intelligences Working (30th June and 1st July 2012).
Genius 101 by Dean Keith Simonton. New York: Springer, 2009. (TS-3). Dean Keith Simonton is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis. This book provides an overview of Simonton’s influential research program on genius, how it is measured, and under what conditions it can be cultivated and flourish. Builds on Simonton’s earlier book Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) (TS-3) and is a summary of genius research profiled in Simonton’s edited collection The Wiley Handbook of Genius (Chichester, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014) (TS-4).
The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind by John Coates. London: Penguin Books, 2017. (TS-3). Metis involves calculated risk-taking in ambiguous or uncertain conditions. Coates is a neuroscientist formerly affiliated with the University of Cambridge, and as a former risk manager with Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and Deutsche Bank. His study of the neurobiology of financial risk-taking in booms and busts also has implications for competitive sports and military war-fighting. An introduction to the physiology and the neuroscience of risk-taking.
Understanding Beliefs by Nils J. Nilsson. Boston, MA: The MIT Press, 2014. (TS-3) Nilsson is Kumagai Professor of Engineering (Emeritus) in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University. Nilsson’s artificial intelligence research informs this short introduction into how humans acquire, form, and communicate their beliefs — leading to social, cultural, political, and religious change. Argues for Bayesian probabilistic revision and updates to personal beliefs.
Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. (TS-1). Anders Ericsson is the Conradi Eminent Scholar and a Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. Ericsson’s research on deliberate practice—how individuals use deliberate and mindful effort to cultivate expertise—has changed how learning is conducted in domains such as the arts, sport, and medicine. Provides a methodology to fulfil the mindful evolution vision of Csikzentmihalyi, Kaufman, and Simonton noted above. Malcolm Gladwell popularised Ericsson’s research as the 10,000 Hour Rule in his book Outliers: The Story of Success (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011) (TS-3) which has led to a media debate about Ericsson’s research and its conclusions.
Mastery by Robert Greene. New York: Viking, 2013. (TS-3). An exploration using historical and contemporary figures of the pursuit and conditions of mastery: the visible outcome of Anders Ericsson’s deliberate practice noted above. Can be read in conjunction with George Leonard’s Mastery (#17M) and Greene’s other popular books on themes like war, power, and seduction. Greene’s companion book Interviews With The Masters (Seattle, WA: Amazon Digital Services, 2013) (TS-3) interviews nine contemporary masters in-depth.
Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. New York: Penguin Books, 2012. (TS-3). Roy F. Baumeister is Professor of Social Psychology at The University of Queensland, Australia. In this book he collaborates with New York Times science journalist John Tierney to communicate Baumeister’s influential laboratory research on human will as responsible agency, and how self-control is a necessary foundation for self-agency.
American University’s Tricia Bacon and Georgetown University’s Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault have a new article in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism journal on the break between Al Qaeda and Islamic State. The article’s abstract:
Employing counterfactuals to assess individual and systemic explanations for the split between al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), this article concludes that individual leaders factor greatly into terrorist alliance outcomes. Osama bin Laden was instrumental in keeping al Qaeda and ISIS allied as he prioritized unity and handled internal disputes more deftly than his successor, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. Although a troubled alliance, strategic differences between al Qaeda and ISIS were not sufficient to cause the split. Rather, the capabilities of al Qaeda’s leader determined the group’s ability to prevent alliance ruptures.
The article is an interesting use of the counterfactual method for causal inference of explanations. The authors’ focus on Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri contrasts with other explanations such as Will McCants’ focus on Islamic State’s apocalyptic belief system.
During my on-going PhD research at Monash University, I’ve increasingly focused on ‘dissertation to book’ studies from university presses (Cambridge, Cornell, Princeton, Stanford) that develop and test formal theories. This has been a surprise to me – given that my earlier published research used critical theory and journalism experience.
The latest study I’m looking at is Alexandre Debs and Nuno P. Monteiro’s Nuclear Politics: The Strategic Causes of Nuclear Proliferation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016). They include a puzzle and case study based approach that emphasises the pivotal role of security concerns. Their book includes coding rules and a formal theory: a useful ‘writing model’ for the relevant sections of my draft thesis.
- Marx, Capital, and the Madness of Economic Reason by David Harvey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). One of Karl Marx’s leading contemporary scholars interprets the three volume Capital in the context of post-2008 secular stagnation. Some interesting comments on how debt and extractive institutions work.
- How To Be An Academic: The Thesis Whisperer Reveals All by Inger Mewburn (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2017). The Thesis Whisperer explains why contemporary higher education is like The Hunger Games and offers informed advice on how to survive ‘precariat’ labour and build an institutional profile.
- Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation by Douglas Walton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). The University of Windsor professor’s introductory textbook on argumentation and critical reasoning.
RAND has a new research paper out on Islamic State’s economics:
At its peak, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) controlled vast portions of territory in Iraq and Syria with several million inhabitants. ISIL’s territorial ambition and desire to conduct state-like governance over this territory are integral to its global ideological appeal. By examining ISIL’s impact on local economic activity in Iraq and Syria, this report seeks to assess the effectiveness of ISIL’s governance over its self-styled caliphate.
This report leverages remote sensing data and commercial satellite imagery to offer a unique, data-driven look inside areas controlled by the Islamic State. It paints a bleak picture of economic life under ISIL, replete with shortages of electricity, massive refugee flows, reductions in agricultural output, and upticks in violence all associated with ISIL control.
At times, ISIL was able to build a dense governing apparatus that helped maintain stable local commercial activity, particularly in its strategic capitals in Raqqah and Mosul. At other times, ISIL mismanaged key resources or sought to punish its citizenry rather than govern it. However, this report suggests that decaying economic conditions in ISIL-held territory are also a product of ISIL’s inability to insulate its territory from opposing military forces. Outside pressure against ISIL successfully prevented the group from realizing its governing ambitions across significant parts of its caliphate, with major consequences for its ability to support functioning local economies.
This report is important for those trying to understand the group’s impact on local populations in Iraq and Syria, for those seeking to counter its financing or conduct post-conflict stabilization, and for broader efforts to understand the economic impact of insurgent governance.
I’ll likely be citing it in my in-progress PhD chapter on Islamic State.