Australia’s Strategic Culture

In 2014, I co-wrote an article with Deakin University’s Dr Ben Eltham for Contemporary Security Policy Journal: ‘Australia’s Strategic Culture: Constraints and Opportunities in Security Policymaking.’

 

CSP and their publisher Taylor & Francis have now made the article available for free here.

 

My thanks to CSP, Taylor & Francis, and special issue editor Professor Jeffrey S. Lantis for their help in making the article available to a wider readership.

PhD Presentation for Monash SPS 2013

On Tuesday, I’m giving a PhD presentation at the annual SPS Symposium held at Monash University. This year, I’m focusing on Australian strategic culture, and the recent debates about Australian defence and national security policy. Some of this material is in an article co-written with Ben Eltham that is currently under review with the journal Contemporary Security Policy.

25th November 2011: Reconstructing Disinfo.com Dossier Archives

I recently started a Google Scholar personal profile. I spent a day importing most of my academic publication history from the past decade. (There are a few gaps, such as some unpublished work I did on Clayton Christensen and Google for the Smart Internet Technology CRC in 2006-07. I’m reworking that material for peer reviewed journal articles.)

The biggest challenge was what to do with my Disinformation material, which was never peer-reviewed nor published in an academic journal.

I edited the site on a daily basis in two stints: November 1999 to August 2002, and April 2003 to February 2008. I took over from co-founder Richard Metzger who had launched the site on 13th September 1996, and Russ Kick took over from me in the interim, before launching his Alternewswire project. The first period is archived here whilst The Wayback Machine has a snapshot of Disinfo.com’s historical evolution here.

21C publisher/editor Ashley Crawford put me in contact with Metzger in mid-1998 after an RU Sirius profile. Metzger suggested I write some dossiers – partly as a therapeutic outlet to get over 21C‘s print demise and a messy relationship break-up. I emailed him profiles of Anton LaVey, George Gurdjieff, memetic engineering and space migration. When Razorfish acquired The Disinformation Company, Metzger and publisher Gary Baddeley tapped me to edit the site whilst they worked on the Disinfo Nation series for the United Kingdom’s Channel 4. 2000 and 2001 were my most productive years.

By mid-2002 I was burnt out and had turned to archival material from my La Trobe University student newspaper Rabelais, 21C and other sources. I also experimented with event-driven news reportage using lessons from information visualisation, values systems theory, media studies and political science. One day whilst drafting a dossier on the philosopher Peter Ouspensky I realised that I just couldn’t write anymore. Metzger and Baddeley had watched the content decline and reached a similar conclusion.

When he took over the daily editing responsibilities, Russ Kick brought a different, current issues sensibility to the site (Metzger excelled as a curator which he continues to do at his new project Dangerous Minds). My 2003-2008 period shifted away from writing original material to daily news coverage, as I completed graduate school and worked full-time as a researcher for the Smart Internet Technology CRC. Baddely wanted the site to be more blog-like and user-driven. I wrote a final editorial message to Disinformation’s readers that summed up the new user-driven direction, which the site continues with today.

I never kept a daily list of the specific dates that dossiers were published on. We lost several dossiers during site transfers. The early content management platforms did not have the functionality of today’s WordPress and Movable Type blogs. For instance, there were no version control or  rollback features, so articles may have been published at earlier dates than the current site version might suggest. From 1998 to 2002 I did compile an editorial master list of possible topics for the freelance contributors to explore, keyed to an old site topic structure: the Disinformation archives are thus only one of several possible sites that could have eventuated over the 1998-2003 period.

I am reconstructing a timeline of rough year dates, in order to get the bibliographic and citation data of the Disinformation dossiers and articles archived in Google Scholar (and possibly into Swinburne University’s research bank). The initial printout of the relevant dossiers and articles comes to 5 pages — larger in size than the academic research I’ve subsequently done. The material varies from excellent to failed experiments and deadline-driven messes.

It feels strange to re-engage with this material for archival and citation purposes — it feels like another lifetime ago.

23rd November 2011: Google Scholar Personal Profiles

Google Scholar has announced open citations and personal profiles.

The service is popular with academics for citation analysis and publication track records. Google Scholar’s data collection is messy: it trawls the internet and gathers citations from a range of websites and sources. It does not yet have the rigour of Elsevier’s Scopus database, for example. However, it is likely to outrank such proprietary services, due to Google’s accessibility and popularity.

My Google Scholar profile is here. For now, it is a highly selective collection — academic journal articles and conference papers, some postgraduate and undergraduate essays, and old Disinformation dossiers (see archives). I was surprised that some long-forgotten articles had been internationally cited. I have a more complete publications profile which gets updated as new academic research is published (PDF).

Several past collaborators — Axel Bruns, Ben Eltham & Jose Ramos — have their own profiles, and you should check out their personal research programs.

15th December 2010: Iran-Twitter Q&A

Over a year ago Ben Eltham and I did a conference paper on Twitter’s role in Iran’s 2009 election crisis. The paper proved too controversial for the conference’s refereed stream yet it has gone on to become our most widely read and cited paper.

Today, Paul Raymond posed some questions about Twitter and Wikileaks for a forthcoming article in Saudi Arabia’s magazine The Diplomat. Below are my email answers:

You express doubts that Twitter and other social network tools will “enable ordinary people to seize power from repressive regimes.” But what other political potentials do these networks have, in terms of broadening the public sphere for debate, mobilizing political networks, and helping to globalise civil society? What will be the results of these potentials for governments?

Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking tools certainly have the potential to broaden debate, mobilise political networks, and to globalise civil society. Perhaps they are today’s equivalent of the Cold War’s Radio Free Europe or Voice of America broadcasts. They are able to mobilise autonomous, self-regulative networks of people on a salient issue, and allow government agencies like the US State Department to reach a wider audience. However, these same qualities also mean that particularly for Twitter, social networks can be used to spread rumour and propaganda.US neoconservatives recognised these qualities in 2000 during their discussions on what a ‘next generation’ capability might resemble.Twitter’s interest in Iran gradually faded after the weeks of political uncertainty, as it became clear that Ahmadinejad’s regime would remain in power. Our conclusions echo the late sociologist and political scientist Charles Tilly’s work on political violence and repressive regimes.

The US State Department implicitly recognised Twitter’s importance when it asked Twitter to delay server upgrades – or at least, officials wanted to know what would happen next in the political cyber-laboratory of Iran. What would be a proper response by western governments to the results, including the “unintended uses” different actors gained from the network?

Firstly, to understand that Twitter, Facebook and other social networks will have their own dynamics similar to the CNN Effect of the 1990-91 Gulf War. Second, to counterbalance the ability to reach different audiences with the reality that people may only sustain their attention during a crisis. Third, that different actors will use ‘open network’ tools for their own ends and ethics, such as the Iranian Basij paramilitary using Twitter to arrest and kill protestors.

A ‘proper response’ may depend on the specific government agency. Whilst the US State Department was interested in public diplomacy, other agencies may have different agendas or uses for the same data. The US Department of Defense may be interested in the danger of social networking sites to be used for adversary propaganda and disinformation to international public audiences. A US intelligence agency may be interested in ‘contextual intelligence’ that may arise from diaspora networks, or alternatively, how many ‘tweets’ or messages can lead to ‘noise’. We tried to explore how the same data could be used in different ways depending on the aims and objectives of the specific end-user.

The State Department reacted very differently to the recent phenomenon of Wikileaks. What would be a proper governmental reponse to that kind of use of the internet?

The likely response of the US Government will probably be to charge Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange under the relevant espionage and national security legislation for releasing diplomatic information. In the short-term this will also mean increased security and restricted access in the US Government on a ‘need to know’ basis to diplomatic cables. In the long-term, the US Government could work with specific media and scholarly groups — the American Political Science Association, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, The New York Times, The Washington Post, or George Washington University’s National Security Archive — to release declassified versions of the diplomatic cables in a more controlled and possibly ‘redacted’ manner. However, this might also require changes to US freedom of information laws and declassification schedules. Marc Trachtenberg at the University of California, Los Angeles, is an expert in these declassification issues for historians and political scientists.

What general rules would you suggest governments apply to make best use of the public diplomacy potential of social networking?

Use social networking tools to openly inform the public, such as Saudi Arabia’s initiatives on combatting terrorist financing and successful rehabilitation programs for ex-jihadists. Understand the limitations of social networking tools, such as their varied use by different groups, and how they can become disconnected in crisis situations from ‘on-the-ground’ events. Have mechanisms in place to identify, monitor and to counter disinformation and propaganda that may propagate on such social networks. Integrate social networking tools into a ‘hearts and minds’ strategy that uses a variety of media.

Can government’s efforts to crack down on freedom of information (such as the Chinese attacks on Google and the worldwide campaign against Wikileaks) work in the long run, or has the playing field been permanently leveled, giving civil society and opposition groups the ability to challenge governments’ influence over media agendas and foreign publics’ perceptions?

Constructivist scholars like Alexander Wendt, Peter Katzenstein and Martha Finnemore note the growing power of civil society groups to shape public perceptions and influence media agendas. Sophisticated governments may even work closely with aid organisations like the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies during a crisis. It depends on the context and the nature of the information being publicly released. Google’s problems with China were foreseeable since at least early 2006 because of how Google’s management handled earlier crises about the identities of Chinese human rights activists. The campaign against Wikileaks and its publisher Julian Assange appears in part because the information was released in an ‘unredacted’ form and not through an establishment source like Thomas Friedman or Bob Woodward. The realist scholar Stephen M. Walt and others have pointed out the hypocrisy of this: Assange and Wikileaks are being attacked whilst mainstream media institutions like The New York Times are not. Perhaps the challenge also is that the information Wikileaks has published is about recent and current events, and not the usual 20-30 year gap of normal declassification procedures. The public’s demand for ‘real-time’ information and more transparency is an opportunity for governments and public diplomats, should they decide to seize it.

PhD: Academic Publications & Scholarly Research History

For the past five years I’ve been working on ‘draft zero’ of a PhD project on counterterrorism, intelligence, and the ‘strategic culture’ debate within international relations theory and strategic studies.

The project ‘flew past me’ during a trip to New York City, shortly after the September 11 attacks, and whilst talking with author Howard Bloom, culture maven Richard Metzger, Disinformation publisher Gary Baddeley, and others. An important moment was standing on the roof of Bloom’s apartment building in Park Slopes, Brooklyn, and seeing the dust cloud over Ground Zero.

The ‘draft zero’ is about 240,000 words of exploratory notes, sections, and working notes; about 146,000 of these words are computer text, whilst 80,000 is handwritten (and thus different, and more fragmentary).

In the next couple of weeks, I’ll write about the PhD application process, and the project when it gets formally under way, to share insights and ‘lessons learned’.

For now, here’s a public version of my CV and academic publications track record (PDF).

This is part of the background material prepared for the target university’s formal application process. In the publications section, the letter and numbers relate to Australia’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) coding for the annual, institutional process of Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC); and the 2010 final rankings of peer reviewed journals for the Australian Research Council‘s (ARC) Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) program. Universities and research institutions in Australia use the ARC, ERA, HERDC and DEEWR codings for bibliometrics, inter-institutional benchmarking, and to inform the strategic formulation, development and review of research investment portfolios.

CPRF08 Paper: Disruptive Innovation, Radiohead & Nine Inch Nails

I recently blogged about a presentation the 2008 Communications Policy Research Forum in Sydney on disruptive innovation in the music industry.

You can now download an Adobe PDF version of the PowerPoint slides here.

The refereed paper has been published in the Proceedings of the Communications Policy Research Forum 2008 (pp. 155-175 or PDF file pp. 179-199).  You can also download a local copy of the paper here.

The paper’s case study examines why Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails released their new albums as digital downloads.  I suggest a major reason why, and one that was overlooked by Web 2.0 pundits, is that each artist was in the ‘label shopping phase’ of a new contract and defected after negotiation problems with their major labels.  This fits a pattern in mergers and acquisitions: the major labels lost artists due to integration problems in a merger or acquisition.  Terra Firma Capital Partners has since partially confirmed this hypothesis: the private equity firm endures more post-acquisition integration problems with EMI and is fighting against government regulation of Great Britain’s financial services sector.

The paper’s data appendices contrast the artists’ strategies with signficant events and innovations in music industry contracts, conglomerate mergers and deal structures.  Somehow I missed U2‘s March 2008 deal with Live Nation: I found out about it in an October 2008 announcementGuns n’ Roses also finally released Chinese Democracy (MySpace audio stream): a new album that has taken 15 years, a rumoured US$14 million budget and 14 recording studios in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and London.  I may write a paper on it . . .

No Exit

The live shows are amazing when the band focuses on the music but things fall apart in between.

That’s the narrative arc of No Way, Get F*#ked, F*#k Off! an SBS/Beyond International documentary on the reformation of the Australian rock band The Angels after eight years of legal battles.  The documentary contrasts fan jubilation with the band’s in-group struggles: leadership battles between lead vocalist Doc Neeson and rhythm guitarist John Brewster over setlists and song arrangements; drummer Graham ‘Buzz’ Bidstrup’s disagreements with management over the contracts for merchandise and songwriting royalties; and the weight of the past, notably an archive trip with revelations about The Angels‘ support tours at their prime with David Bowie, Cheap Trick and The Kinks.

No Way, Get F*#ked, F*#k Off! wisely steers away from The Angels’ live performances on a small club tour.  Instead, we see how subgroup coalitions form over the tour, from rehearsals to the final gig.  Neeson and John Brewster’s strong personalities act as two magnetic poles.  Neeson appears frustrated that Brewster and lead guitarist Rick Brewster use pincer-style tactics to get their way on key decisions.  John Brewster feels compelled to defend The Angels’ management which is taking on the financial risk of the tour, and the record company which offers a favourable deal.  Bidstrup is cautious because of past contracts that signed away his
legal rights during The Angels’ 1976-81 vintage period.  He also points that Brewster-Neeson-Brewster received royalties as the core songwriters, so there are incentives and power imbalances in the group that affects the decision-making process.

As the tour unfolds the group dynamics change.  Neeson extracts an early concession to have Neeson-Brewster-Brewster on the tour merchandise.  Bidstrup demands further assurances on the scale and scope of the tour contracts.  John Brewster claims Bidstrup is being “difficult” because of his business management and entrepreneurial experience outside The Angels.  Brewster and Bidstrup misinterpret eachother in meetings as Neeson withdraws.

No Way, Get F*#ked, F*#k Off! ends on an uncertain note: management refuses Bidstrup can attend a pivotal meeting, Brewster defends their decision, and Neeson counters that he is uncomfortable with excluding Bidstrup.   As the credits roll Bidstrup wonders on-camera if he will remain in The Angels or if he joined the tour just to “close the circle” on earlier events.  Bidstrup could leave, as Jason Newstead and Joey Belladonna did respectively from Metallica and Anthrax (after their Among The Living reunion in 2005-07).  Alternatively, The Angels could partly resolve Bidstrup’s concerns with songwriting credits for new songs to all band members, as Queen did on their final studio albums with Freddie Mercury.

Global Metal

York University anthropologist Sam Dunn has found a communication strategy to reach a broader audience than many academics and scholars.  Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005) combined Dunn’s fandom of heavy metal music, a taxonomy of subgenres, interviews with influential musicians and a field trip to the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany.  Dunn’s follow-up documentary Global Metal (2008) travels from Wacken to three BRIC members (Brazil, India and China), China, Israel, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates.  Global Metal has rich insights on the coevolution of nation-states in the world system, the challenges of market design, indigenous and hybrid responses to globalisation, and new voices on old debates in heavy metal subcultures.

Anthropologists need an entry point into a new culture.  Dunn achieves this by interviewing Max Cavalera the cofounder of Brazil’s Sepultura and frontman for Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy.  Cavalera explains that Sepultura emerged in the mid-1980s as Brazil evolved from a military dictatorship to a neoliberal market society.  For many heavy metal fans Sepultura’s album Roots (1996) was their first encounter with an indigenous worldview as the band included field recordings with the Xavante Indians and Brazilian percussion.  Dunn’s interview with Cavalera uses Roots to tacitly bring the anthropological models and theories of Clifford Geertz, David Horowitz, Stanley Tambiah and others to fans who are unfamiliar with these influential scholars.  In contrast to this immersive approach Global Metal ends with a more familiar event: Iron Maiden‘s concert on 1st February 2008 the first time that a major Western heavy metal band has played Mumbia, India.

A second entry point for fans is when Dunn revisits past controversies and debates in heavy metal media to include new voices and perspectives.  Does Slayer‘s song ‘Angel of Death’ about the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele promote Holocaust denial and racism?  Dunn turns to the Israeli band Orphaned Land who note that although the song was written for shock value it has been used by politicians to inform Israeli youth about the Holocaust.  Orphaned Land then talk about Jerusalem as a global city and the past religious conflicts between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Far scarier than Middle Ages imagery and occult demons is Orphaned Land’s reality of having to live daily with potential suicide bombers in crowded urban areas.

Dunn returns to this debate throughout Global Metal to show how different individuals and groups reinterpret a meme or symbol and how this can have unforseeable outcomes.  Orphaned Land recount how after playing ‘Angel of Death’ live for Israeli audiences they were sent a mail bomb by Varg Vikernes a notorious Norwegian black metal musician and Holocaust denier.  Iranian fans who are photographed next to Slayer graffiti face possible arrest and torture by religious police – which provokes Slayer’s frontman Tom Araya to comment that the fans seek a death sentence.

More disturbingly, Dunn interviews the Indonesian band Tengkorak whose song ‘Jihad Soldiers’ embraces a militant Islamist worldview.  When Tengorak’s lead singer quotes conspiracy theories from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Dunn observes his jacket has a crossed out Nazi swastika.  “We’re not against Jews,” the singer explains, “just the Jewish system.”  Dunn then visits a Muslim mosque with another Indonesian musician.  Tengorak’s context is the 1997 Asian currency crisis which sparked a wave of conspiracy theories within Indonesia due to macroeconomic destabilisation.

Many of the interviewees give examples of how heavy metal music is reinterpreted differently to Western narratives.  Japanese fans reject Western alienation as an existential motivation and instead create a more emotional and direct identity that is an alternative to their conformist work identity.  KISS had an immediate impact in Japan as the band’s makeup is comparable to Kabuki theatre.  The live improvisation which closed Deep Purple‘s first concert at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan in 1972 has sparked a subculture of ageing salarymen who reform their teenage bands to play ‘Highway Star’.  Former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman explains how X-Japan and Death Panda have fused heavy metal with Japanese game shows like Rock Fujiyama and pop music to create rifts within and between subcultures.  In China heavy metal music is used as part of a Confucian state policy to give youth an outlet for aggression, even though the music is officially frowned upon.  Whilst visiting Mumbai, Dunn intercuts scenes of Indian bands playing a local bar with the Hindu wedding playing Bollywood music next door: two alternative cultures coexist.

The heavy metal subcultures that Dunn visits serve as barometers for nation-state development; freedom for religious and political views; and in a nod to Ulrich Beck, P.R. Sarkar and Amy Chua, the relationship of subcultural groups to mainstream society and sociopolitical power.  Japan has a Janus-faced subculture which has Western and indigenous elements.  India and the United Arab Emirates’ subcultures are at an infancy stage which Dunn links explicitly to democratic political institutions and modernisation: UAE hosts a festival with bands and fans who cannot perform in their home countries due to restrictions.  China, Iran and Turkey have subcultures that are underground due to religious authorities who perceive them as antinomian youth subcultures.  Beck’s concept of subpolitics from below and Sarkar’s Law of the Social Cycle provide theoretical insights here: if the fans are shudra (workers) they have coopted insights from vaeshya (entrepreneurs, merchants) and vipra (intellectuals) to create soft power which counteracts the influence of ksatriya (military).

Brazil and Indonesia are two test cases of this hypothesis.  Cavalera’s narrative of Brazil’s transition to democracy st
ands in contrast to Samuel P. Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies (1968) which warned of the gap between rapid sociopolitical change and lagging political institutions.  Instead, Cavalera argues that Sepultura’s music signified a subpolitics response by the shudra underclass to poverty and the lack of macroeconomic and sociopolitical reforms by social elites.  The flashpoint is Metallica’s concert on 11th April 1993 at Lebak Bulus Stadiam in Jakarta, Indonesia.  Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich explains that in order to protect a middle class area Indonesian police prevent fans from entering the stadium.  Fans retaliate by setting fire to the surrounding buildings; the smoke is visible on a bootleg concert tape.  Indonesian authorites then banned all heavy metal bands and live tours until the Suharto regime ended in 1998.  Indonesia’s heavy metal subculture have since gained greater visibility although Tengorak gives voice to subcultural fears of Western geoeconomic, cultural and religious domination.

The consensus of most fans in Global Metal is that heavy metal’s ‘identity politics’ is evolving into a transnational network with a cosmopolitan worldview.  Almost everyone in the documentary wars an Iron Maiden t-shirt – the power of Chinese sweatshops, marketing and passionbrands.  The major facilitator is the heavy metal entrepreneur, such as the cofounder of China’s Tang Dynasty who imported Western heavy metal in the late 1980s and then evolved into an indigenous worldview.  The major barrier to this cosmopolitan ideal and diffusion process is when subcultural identities are caught in Muzafer Sherif‘s assimilation-contrast effect of social judgment: Japanese purist fans who decry the fusion of pop-metal or Indian fans who are caught in a power struggle with authority figures and family traditions.

Failures in market design are one source of these infra-subcultural battles.  In order to change their financial account reporting Western conglomerates dumped their excess back catalogue such as Extreme‘s 1989 debut album as cheap CDs into India and other countries.  Third World countries were the beneficiaries of bootlegs, MP3s and illegal downloads.  Dunn coaxs an admission from Ulrich that this is a positive trend, a reversal of Metallica’s lawsuit against Napster in 2000.  Black markets emerge where demand exists yet there are no official agents and major price differentials exist.  Ironically,  Global Metal is a victim of this trend: the documentary and a soundtrack of featured bands now circulates on illegal BitTorrent networks.  Turn up the distortion to 11.