Reading Pile

1. Loretta Napoleoni. 2015. The Islamist Phoenix: The Islamic State and the Redrawing of the Middle East. New York: Seven Stories Press. PhD supervisor Luke Howie and I have discussed me including a section on ISIS in my study of terrorist organisations as strategic subcultures. Napoleoni contends that ISIS engages in a new form of nation-building in order to re-establish the Caliphate. One of several quickly written books to emerge as ISIS has gained military power projection in Iraq.

 

2. Richard Seymour. 2014. Against Austerity: How We Can Fix The Crisis They Made. New York: Pluto Press. A left-wing polemic that anticipated current political events in Greece, the Queensland state election, and in Australian federal politics. Seymour describes austerity as neoliberal crisis management, and as an elite strategy to change socio-economic foundations. An angry and insightful analysis of the conditions that might lead to oligarchical collectivism (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four).

 

3. Luke Howie and Peter Kelly. 2015. ‘Sociologies of Terrorism: Holographic Metaphors for Terrorism Research’, Journal of Sociology, 1-15 (online first). The authors propose a ‘holographic theorising’ framework and ‘holographic social scientific imagination‘ [emphasis original] (p. 2) for how terrorism studies researchers can explore, interrogate, and re-evaluate data. A central challenge the authors identify is that terrorism events ‘develop, shift, and change‘ [emphasis original] (p. 3) whilst interview transcripts and other research data can remain ‘forever frozen in time‘ [emphasis original] (p. 3). The article includes insights from an on-going interview research project, theorist Donna Haraway, and popular media including Star Trek: Voyager, and I, Robot.

Monash SPS Symposium: Aum Shinrikyo’s Failed Strategic Subculture

Each year I do a 20-minute presentation to the SPS Symposium in Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry on my in-progress PhD research. Below is the outline for this year’s proposed presentation due to occur in October:

 

Aum Shinrikyo’s Failed Strategic Subculture

Alex Burns (alex@alexburns.net)

 

Key Words: Aum Shinrikyo; strategic culture; terrorist groups

 

In 1977, RAND’s Jack Snyder proposed strategic subcultures as a unit of analysis to understand distinct beliefs, analytical traditions, institutions, and socialisation norms in a strategic community. Recently, the so-called fourth generation of strategic culture scholarship has – via Alan Bloomfield, David Haglund, Jeffrey Lantis, and others – applied Snyder’s unit of analysis to examine new foreign policy actors. This presentation applies Snyder’s strategic subcultures to advance a new understanding of the militant Japanese religious sect Aum Shinrikyo, and its 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subway system. I use narrative analysis and qualitative thematic coding to re-examine two theory-building explanations about Aum Shinrikyo’s decision-making: Robert Jay Lifton’s psychohistory (Destroying the World to Save It) and Haruki Murakami’s oral history interviews (Underground). I also develop a new strategic subculture explanation of Aum Shinrikyo’s failure that builds on Frederick M. Smith’s research into South Asian deity and spirit possession experiences (The Self Possessed).

 

Paper Type: Full Paper

Working Title: Terrorist Groups as Strategic Subcultures

Degree: PhD

Supervisor: Luke Howie