PhD Submission

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.

Vega Theory

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.

SPS Symposium 2019 Abstract

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

Update: Talk PowerPoint slides and recorded audio (30th October 2019) are now available.

PhD Pre-Submission Seminar / Final Review Documentation

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.

New Years Resolutions

Here are my New Years resolutions for my academic research:

  1. 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.
  2. Use the Bullet Journal system. I’ll be experimenting with Ryder Carroll’s self and time management system (book) for PhD and other projects.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

PhD Original Contributions to Field of Study

This weekend I’m preparing my Pre-Submission Seminar / Final Review slides for Monash University. I will give a presentation on 14th November to an academic panel. I’ve also started an ARC DECRA application for future submission. Below are some thoughts on my PhD’s original contributions to my field of study (counter-terrorism):

  • ‘Fourth Generation’ Strategic Culture: My PhD dissertation has conceptualised a fourth generation of strategic culture theory-building that is closely linked to national security concerns, occurs in a multipolar world, and considers a broader range of instruments beyond military force such as economic statecraft.
  • Strategic Subcultures in Terrorist Organisations: My PhD dissertation has developed and tested a new conceptual theory on strategic subcultures in terrorist organisations. I have developed empirical tests for an expanded case universe.
  • TheoryBuilding and Theory-Testing: My pre-doctoral research used theory-building and theory-testing to critically evaluate a range of theories in journalism, media studies, and internet sociology. In particular, I have recently paid attention to the evolution of ideas and ideologies into mobilised political and religious violence.
  • Methodological Advancement in Qualitative, Causal Analysis: My PhD research and recent scholarship combines theory-building and theory-testing forms of process tracing with counterfactuals and event studies. I am presently exploring the Bayesian and set-theoretic roots of process tracing and other causal inference methodologies.
  • Event Studies: Over my pre-doctoral, and doctoral research career, I have authored and co-authored a range of qualitative event studies, notably on the journalism, media, and grand strategy impacts of the September 11 terrorist attacks on Australia and the United States, and the social media network Twitter’s role in Iran’s 2009 election crisis.

I will submit my PhD to Monash University on 22nd July 2019 for review.

Monash University SPS HDR Symposium 2018 Talk Slides

Tomorrow, I’m giving a talk at Monash University’s SPS HDR Symposium 2018 about my on-going PhD research:

Room: H2.38, Caulfield campus

Time: 2pm-3pm timeslot

You can read the talk’s abstract here. The talk’s slides are here.

Update: You can download the talk’s audio here. There was also a great Q&A later in the session: thanks to everyone who attended for their helpful feedback.

A Draft Abstract For My PhD Dissertation

During the late Cold War period, strategic culture emerged as a comparative analytical framework in strategic studies and nuclear deterrence policymaking. Strategic culture examines the collective, long-term shared understandings on why adversaries may use violence to achieve strategic objectives. An under-theorised aspect is the possible existence of strategic subcultures: organisational or institutional coalitions that prioritise and shape the pathway into violence, and the specific operational contexts in which violence may be used.

 

Terrorist organisations are a national security threat for Australia. This thesis advances a new causal theory of strategic subcultures in terrorist organisations. It draws on current debates in two sub-fields: the fourth generation of strategic culture theory-building, and the terrorism studies analysis of terrorist organisations. Responding to these current debates this thesis focuses on how terrorist leaders formulate strategic objectives, allocate resources, and recruit and mobilise followers for campaigns.

 

A modified form of process tracing is used to examine two qualitative case studies: Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Three causal mechanisms are examined: the cultural transmission of religiously motivated belief systems for violence; the social learning that occurs between terrorist organisation leaders and followers; and folklore myths and narratives that shape internal worldviews. Combining these three causal mechanisms provides a rationale for strategic subcultures: it develops organisational counter-power to enhance the long-term survivability of terrorist leaders and their ideologies.

 

Both terrorist organisations were unsuccessful in achieving their long-term strategic objectives. Aum Shinrikyo used Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist cosmology to influence its renunciates whilst also hiding a covert, compartmentalised research program into biological and chemical weapons. ISIL used insurgent warfare to capture – and then lose – territory, people, and resources in Iraq and Syria. Both were motivated by apocalyptic worldviews that failed translationally in practice. Understanding these failure sources may help develop effective counter-terrorism policies and strategies.

Monash SPS Symposium Presentation on Fourth Generation Strategic Culture

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.

 

Further details:

 

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.

 

Update: The snapshot presentation audio can be downloaded here and the slides here. Thanks to Dr Pete Lentini and Dr Tom Chodor who were discussants.