My political science PhD at Monash University – The Development of Strategic Culture in Terrorist Organisations – has been finalised, certified, and archived. It is under embargo until 2023 to facilitate publishing from it. My thanks to PhD Supervisors Pete Lentini, Luke Howie, Zareh Ghazarian, Benjamin MacQueen, and Andy Butfoy. Also thanks to my PhD examiners Kumar Ramakrishna, Andrew Newman, and Brad Williams for their deep expertise and helpful commentary.
I’m presenting at the Australian International Political Economy Network’s 11th Workshop on 6th February 2020 at the University of Sydney on political economist Branko Milanovic, Australia’s liberal meritocratic capitalism, and my PhD work on mobilisational counter-power. You can now read the talk abstract, hear the audio, and view the PowerPoint sides. Thanks to AIPEN for a travel grant to attend the 11th Workshop.
One of my 2020 projects is to prepare a book proposal for an interested international publisher that builds on my PhD thesis manuscript. Monash University’s Associate Professor Pete Lentini, Dr Luke Howie, and Dr Zareh Ghazarian were pivotal to providing feedback on the PhD thesis manuscript and also to explaining how academic publishing works. To prepare my proposal I’ll be using William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book (Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 2013).
From 4th March 2011 to 22nd November 2019, I was a part-time PhD candidate at Australia’s Monash University in political science. My doctoral thesis ‘The Development of Strategic Culture in Terrorist Organisations’ (currently under examination) drew on strategic studies and terrorism studies to advance a new understanding of how terrorist organisations can grow, evolve, and fail. My qualitative case study was Japan’s new religious movement Aum Shinrikyo. Here are some of the lessons I learned from some of the PhD Supervisors and academic scholars who I encountered along my doctoral journey:
Professor Arthur D. Shulman
I worked with Professor Shulman in 2008-13 at Australia’s Victoria University in a three-person Faculty-based Research Facilitation Unit. At the time, I was working on building a publication track record as a solo and collaborative researcher whilst also working full-time in research administration. Professor Shulman convinced me that I needed to do a PhD and he wrote a recommendation letter to Monash University. He also taught me about research programs, publications, ethics, and the Lazear-Rosen theory of “Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts” (Journal of Political Economy, vol. 89, no. 2 (1981): 861-864).
Dr Andrew (Andy) Butfoy
I had previously done a Masters mini-thesis with Dr Butfoy on the nuclear strategist Herman Kahn and North Korea’s covert nuclear weapons development program. Dr Butfoy was familiar with the strategic culture literature, particularly Professor Alastair Iain Johnston’s seminal contributions at the University of Michigan (in its doctoral program) and at Harvard University. Dr Butfoy oversaw my first chapter on the history of strategic culture in a United States think tank context (the RAND Corporation and the Hudson Institute), and an unused draft chapter on the history of terrorism studies. His novel Rogue Republic (London: Austin Macauley Publishers, 2018) captures Dr Butfoy’s wit and wisdom about strategic studies and Washington DC’s Beltway politics. After several years, Dr Butfoy left university teaching to pursue personal interests.
Associate Professor Benjamin MacQueen
Associate Professor Benjamin MacQueen contributed a strong grounding in Middle East area studies and research methodology to the preparations for my PhD’s confirmation of candidature milestone. My original PhD proposal had an overcomplicated approach that used six different research methodologies: in discussion with Associate Professor MacQueen, I eventually refined this down to a single qualitative case study that used process tracing. He provided critical feedback on my early chapters to strengthen their scholarship and their original contribution to knowledge. Associate Professor MacQueen left my PhD candidature to take up a senior administrative post, and contributed valuable feedback to my Pre-Submission Seminar/Final Review milestone.
Dr Luke Howie
Dr Howie began as an associate PhD Supervisor due to his interests in terrorism studies and critical sociology. He became my main PhD Supervisor throughout most of my PhD candidature. He challenged me to integrate my earlier period of New Journalism and Disinformation subculture search engine work into my thesis: I told him I wasn’t in that headspace now and wanted to write a more conventional United States-style thesis, with testable hypotheses, methodology, and case study analysis. One of our most important conversations concerned the timing of when to apply for academic roles in universities (being ‘on the job market’ after PhD submission), and how academic book publishing really worked. Dr Howie also taught me to integrate more data analysis into my thesis and its process tracing methodology.
Dr Zareh Ghazarian
Dr Ghazarian was an associate PhD Supervisor throughout much of my PhD candidature with expertise on political parties and the unique dynamics of micro political parties. This proved invaluable when considering Aum Shinrikyo’s failed political campaign for the Japanese Diet. Dr Ghazarian provided editorial feedback on my chapters, guidance on how to navigate candidature milestones, advice on journal article writing and publishing, and he is regularly cited by my Swinburne Online students in undergraduate Australian Politics. Dr Ghazarian’s regular appearances on the business and finance network Bloomberg highlight how to have an effective media presence when talking about your discipline or field of expertise.
Associate Professor Pete Lentini
I took Masters classes in 2005-06 with Associate Professor Pete Lentini. During my Mid-Candidature Review milestone feedback he advised me to look at Professor Ian Reader’s scholarship on Aum Shinrikyo: this was probably the most initiatory-aware analysis of founder Shoko Asahara, and the Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana-influenced “initiatory, religious sub-system” in the new religious movement. Associate Professor Lentini joined my PhD Supervisor team in 2019 to provide two rounds of solid edits on my thesis manuscript, guidance on two new chapters, advice on new religious movement and terrorism studies literature, and to oversee the administrative requirements for my final submission on 22nd November 2019. He also brought deep expertise about Russian and post-Soviet politics which was useful to several written but unused chapters that I may develop into future journal articles.
Professor Ranjeny Thomas and Helen Roberts
In 2017-18, I worked in Professor Ranjeny Thomas’s immunology lab team at the University of Queensland, and in the highly secure Translational Research Institute facility. I would occasionally see Professor Ian Frazer who developed the Gardasil vaccine. I shared an office with Helen Roberts who along with Professor Thomas spearheaded the research commercialisation company Dendright. This was in the context of a medical research environment that was different to my social sciences background. Amongst the lessons I learned from Professor Thomas was the importance of mentoring new researchers, and the definable legacy that this leaves over your academic teaching and research career. Professor Thomas’s immunology lab was collegial and high performance oriented. Whilst I had previously been trained in intellectual property, working with Helen Roberts provided many practical insights about how an IP strategy is implemented. She also taught me to use PubMed to search for the latest medical research.
In 2017, I worked in a contract consulting role for Australia’s private university Bond University. Andrew Calder is the Director of the Office of Research Services, which was a professional, team-oriented, and supportive environment. One of the insights I gained from colleagues in ORS was about the common psychological ups and downs of the PhD journey, and why resilience is really important to long-term success. At Bond, I learned how to use a Bloomberg finance terminal, read the latest literature on behavioural economics, and discovered MIT Associate Professor Vipin Narang’s scholarship in strategic culture in the context of contemporary nuclear strategy. This influenced my subsequent PhD write-up.
Dr Michael Cohen
In 2018 whilst at The Australian National University, I had the opportunity to provide research administration services to Dr Michael Cohen. Dr Cohen is an expert on nuclear strategy and we were able to discuss his use of cognitive biases and decision heuristics to study how leadership dealt with nuclear weapons. I learned more about academic publishing and how to structure a research program, how to develop projects to interest academic publishers, and how to use process tracing in the context of archival-based, historical research. This discovery was a confirmation experience that I could definitely use process tracing in my doctoral thesis, and could also expand the potential number of case studies for my post PhD research agenda.
Dr Andrew (Andy) Kennedy
In 2018 whilst at The Australian National University, I had the opportunity to provide research services to Dr Andrew Kennedy. Dr Kennedy was a doctoral student of Harvard University’s Professor Alastair Iain Johnston, and is an expert in the science and technology strategies of China and India. Johnston left strategic culture scholarship after what is called the ‘Gray-Johnston’ debate about competing methodological and paradigmatic approaches. In contrast, Dr Kennedy’s research agenda offered an illustration of what post-2002, ‘fourth generation’ scholarship on strategic culture in an emerging multipolar world might resemble. It also highlighted the importance of field research and languages, when gathering primary data and whilst studying other countries.
Associate Professor Wesley Widmaier
In 2018 whilst at The Australian National University, I had the opportunity to provide research services to Associate Professor Wesley (Wes) Widmaier. I had first encountered his political economy research whilst Associate Professor Widmaier was previously at Griffith University. At the time of my research services work I was writing up a new chapter for my PhD’s Pre-Submission Seminar/Final Review milestone, and was beginning to consider the new religious movement Aum Shinrikyo as both a terrorist organisation and a political economy phenomenon. Associate Professor Widmaier guided me to some of the relevant literature by John Maynard Keynes and Hyman Minsky; his own research on cycles of stability, crisis, and change; and the International Political Economy section of the International Studies Association. In his research seminars Associate Professor Widmaier also stressed how theory-building and methodology could support each-other. Associate Professor Widmaier’s editorship of the Review of International Political Economy journal highlighted the importance of editorial peer review, and of a research publications strategy.
Dr Sara Bice
In 2018 whilst at The Australian National University, I had the opportunity to provide research services to Dr Sara Bice. Together with my colleague Simon Stack, I worked with Dr Bice to help scope her Next Generation Engagement Program of research into Australian infrastructure investment. Whilst I had previously worked with Alexander Osterwalder’s business model canvas tools, the opportunity to work with Dr Bice meant considering the impact and engagement of her research agenda for government policymakers and industry.
I submitted my PhD The Development of Strategic Culture in Terrorist Organisations today to Monash University. My thesis is currently under examination. My thanks to PhD Supervisors Pete Lentini, Luke Howie, Zareh Ghazarian, Benjamin MacQueen, and Andy Butfoy for their support, and Michelle Buckley and Tilly for their love and encouragement.
This week after 8 1/2 years I’m submitting my political science PhD at Monash University to external examiners (update: I did so on 22nd November and my thesis is under examination). Over the past weekend I launched Vega Theory: a new blog about my post PhD research program at the nexus of strategic studies, terrorism studies, political economy and sociology. Follow @vegatheory on Twitter for regular updates. I’ll also be taking on-board the insights I learned over eight years whilst writing for and editing the former subculture search engine Disinformation – from 1999 to 2008 – and how the post-2016 environment has changed.
After eight years I’ve just submitted the final talk for my PhD thesis at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences:
Causal Mechanisms for Strategic Subcultures: The Case of Aum Shinrikyo
On 20th March 1995, the Japanese new religious movement Aum Shinrikyo (Aum Supreme Truth) mobilised a sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 13 people and injured several thousand. Why did Aum Shinrikyo carry out this attack, and how did it expect to survive? This presentation critically interrogates this question by using (qualitative) process tracing to examine three interlinked causal mechanisms: (1) the cultural transmission of a religious knowledge base that informed the decision preference for terrorist violence; (2) social learning that led to differential outcomes in terms of social reproduction for the senior leadership (the decision elite) and the religious members (renunciates) who were unaware of Aum Shinrikyo’s covert research program for biological and chemical weapons development; and (3) the cultic milieu folklore which functioned to spread Aum Shinrikyo’s ideas in a crowded marketplace for Japanese new religions, and which was a gatekeeping mechanism for potential members. Further research is also identified.
Keywords: Aum Shinrikyo, causal mechanisms, cultic milieu, process tracing, terrorism, strategic subcultures
My PhD Pre-Submission Seminar / Final Review documentation can be accessed here. My thanks to the Monash University committee in the School of Political and Social Inquiry: Associate Professor Steven Roberts, Associate Professor Ben MacQueen, and Dr Bill Flanik, and to my PhD Supervisors, Dr Luke Howie and Dr Zareh Ghazarian. This PhD milestone was passed on 14th November 2018.
Here are my New Years resolutions for my academic research:
- PhD Completion. 22nd July 2019 is my deadline for PhD submission. I have 27,500 words to write, editing, and references to sort out. I’m adding a new chapter on theory-building insights about strategic subcultures and Aum Shinrikyo. I’m also combing through over 250,000 words of working notes for relevant material.
- Use the Bullet Journal system. I’ll be experimenting with Ryder Carroll’s self and time management system (book) for PhD and other projects.
- Work on my next solo authored academic publication. I last published in 2014 – I’ve been focused on PhD research since then. I have several academic publications planned. I will be revisiting Wendy Laura Belcher’s system (book) for deveoping academic journal articles.
- Review for academic journals. I am getting regular invitations to review for leading academic journals including Contemporary Security Policy. I hope to continue this review work in 2019.