New Books on Al Qaeda’s Strategic Culture

In 2011, my PhD supervisors asked me about a planned case study on Al Qaeda’s strategic culture. Now, there are two books out that address this issue:

 

  • Michael W.S. Ryan’s Decoding Al Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013).
  • Donald Holbrook’s The Al-Qaeda Doctrine: The Framing and Evolution of the Leadership’s Public Discourse (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014).

 

There are now some case studies and further analysis to answer this initial query.

 

Alastair Iain Johnston’s third generation of strategic culture focused on organisational studies. A relevant book that may link this third generation to the study of terrorist organisations is Vahid Brown and Don Rassler’s Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

 

I’m also looking at Peter Bergen’s reportage on Al Qaeda – so his forthcoming book United States of Jihad: The Untold Story of Al-Qaeda in America (New York: Crown, 2015) may also be relevant.

A PhD Write-Up Update

From an email to my PhD Supervisor about what I’m working on:

 

  • A revised Chapter 1 on strategic culture will now include a new conceptual framework that examines and integrates the SC literature on two dimensions: theory-building and foreign policy analysis. For now, I have dubbed this a ‘spectrum framework’. It incorporates feedback from the ISA panelists, and from Jeffrey Lantis on recent theory-building / research design debates in the so-called fourth generation (post-2000) of strategic culture. I will contrast the proposed new framework with Alastair Iain Johnston’s generations framework (from his PhD and book Cultural Realism, and from the 1995 International Security article ‘Thinking About Strategic Culture’).

 

  • A revised Chapter 2 will include a formal model of strategic culture / subcultures in terrorist organisations. Jacob Shapiro’s recent book The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013) is directly relevant, and may answer some of the concerns you initially raised about how to study terrorist organisations from an organisational perspective. For the chapter format I am using as a ‘writing model’ example Chapter 2 from Michael C. Horowitz’s PhD and subsequent book The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010) in which Horowitz presents his Adoption-Capacity Theory.

 

  • Rather than a separate methodology chapter I am thinking of integrating this into methodology sections in the two case study chapters. The methods to be used are: causal / decision / process tracing of the Peter Bergen / Steve Coll / Michael Scheuer / Lawrence Wright investigative journalism  (Al Qaeda chapter), and interpretivist / qualitative / thematic text coding of Robert Jay Lifton / Haruki Marukami interviews (Aum Shinrikyo chapter). Two of the key methods books I am using are Derek Beach and Rasmus Brun Pedersen’s Process-Tracing: Foundations and Guidelines (University of Michigan Press, 2013), which I picked up at ISA, and Greg Guest, Kathleen MacQueen, and Emily E. Namey’s Applied Thematic Analysis (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2012). I attended a couple of ISA panels with Patrick Thaddeus Jackson (The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations) that were helpful to think through methodological issues.

 

  • I have some material for Chapter 5 on Conclusions / Further Research.

 

  • I have started to scope some material that might inform future journal articles beyond the PhD, such as the use of knowledge representation / microfoundations for the underlying logics, and computational cultural psychology as one of several new methodologies for future case studies. I also found this week a parallel approach to my case studies in the new book Global Shell Games: Experiments in Transnational Relations, Crime, and Terrorism (Cambridge University Press, 2014) which uses an experimental political science approach to study organisations, and which has Jason Sharman (Griffith University) as a book co-author. So, more for post-PhD work, I am also considering experimental research methods as a possible avenue.

ISA 2014: The Social Construction of Russia’s Resurgence

The Social Construction of Russia's Resurgence (2009)

The Social Construction of Russia’s Resurgence (2009)

I missed the Saturday sale of political science publishers at ISA 2014.

 

One of the books on my post-conference reading list is Anne L. Clunan‘s book The Construction of Russia’s Resurgence (John Hopkins University Press, 2009). Jack Snyder‘s original paper for RAND in 1977 focused on Soviet strategic culture and the socialisation of politico-military elites during nuclear detente negotiations (PDF). Clunan’s book looks like a useful social construction approach to contemporary issues of leadership and national image that Snyder, Colin S. Gray, Ken Booth and others explored in the first generation of strategic culture scholarship.

ISA 2014 Roundtable on Strategic Culture

This week, I’m speaking on a PhD-related Strategic Culture roundtable at the International Studies Association’s annual convention in Toronto, Canada (program):

 

‘Strategic Culture Is Dead; Long Live Strategic Culture’: New Directions in Research

Thursday 27th March 2014, 4pm – 5:45pm, TD43, Maple West Room, Sheraton Center Toronto

 

International Security Studies

 

Chair. Jeffrey S. Lantis (College of Wooster)

Part. Christopher Twomey (Naval Postgraduate School)

Part. Patrick H. M. Porter (University of Reading)

Part. Alan Bloomfield (University of New South Wales)

Part. K.P. O’Reilly (Carroll University)

Part. Justin Massie (University of Quebec in Montreal)

Part. Alexander G. Burns (Monash University)

Gray Matter

 

For several months I’ve been thinking about writing a PhD chapter on AMC’s Breaking Bad. The influential television series features Drug Enforcement Agency and Mexican drug cartel strategic subcultures centered on Albuqurque, New Mexico. One overlooked aspect is Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) past as a talented graduate research chemist in the now multi-billion dollar firm Gray Matter. One of White’s major character motivations is that he sold his founding stake to Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz for $5000. Its return in the penultimate episode ‘Granite State’ makes the subplot a powerful one for researchers who make decisions on research commercialisation and spinout ventures

 

 

30th January 2013: PhD Confirmation of Candidature Document

Confirmation of candidature is a PhD project’s one year milestone. You can download the second, revised version of my PhD Confirmation of Candidature document here. It outlines my project scope, some of the relevant literature, key research questions, and methodological framework.

 

My thanks to Michael Janover, Pete Lentini, Ben MacQueen, Andy Butfoy, and Luke Howie at Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry for their critical feedback.

25th October 2012: PhD Confirmation Talk Slides

I’m giving a PhD Confirmation talk as part of Monash University’s annual PSI Symposium on 26th October (at the 1:30-3:00pm session in HB.39, Caulfield campus).

 

You can download the slides here and read the 2011 initial PhD proposal here.

 

My thanks to Michael Janover, Pete Lentini, Ben MacQueen, Andy Butfoy and Luke Howie.

 

I opted for a ‘document format’ rather than the aesthetic communication wizardry of Nancy Duarte’s Slide:ology. Maybe next time.

3rd August 2012: Violentology

Colombia’s FARC insurgency is one of my PhD case studies so Stephen Ferry’s project looks interesting:

 

For the past ten years, the photographer Stephen Ferry has working on what he calls a “collective photographic record of the Colombian conflict.” The long-running internal unrest in Colombia, he warns, isn’t just a product of the drug wars, but “involves a baffling array of actors: The Colombian Armed Forces, supported by the United States, two guerrilla armies, and a host of right-wing paramilitary militias and criminal gangs.” Ferry’s project, which brings historical information and images together with his own landscapes of Colombia and portraits of its people, is currently on display at Umbrage gallery, and will be the focus of his upcoming book, “Violentology.” Here’s a look at Ferry’s photographs.