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.

PhD Books

This week, I’m revisiting several PhD books including Patrick Dunleavy’s Authoring A PhD (New York: Palgrave, 2003), and David Sternberg’s classic How To Complete And Survive A Doctoral Dissertation (New York: St Martin’s Griffin, 1981).

 

Dunleavy has some excellent advice on thesis structure, chapters, and writing sections. Sternberg deals in part with a PhD’s psychological journey and the dynamics of how a dissertation committee works.

 

I’m working to transform my working notes into redrafted chapters — so hope these books help.

 

I’m also eyeing off Patricia Goodson’s Becoming An Academic Writer (Thousand Oaks CA: SAGE, 2016) for further developmental work.

Monash SPS Symposium Presentation on Islamic State

Yesterday, I gave a presentation on in-progress thesis research about Islamic State to the annual SPS Symposium at Australia’s Monash University. For the past several years I have used the SPS Symposium to gain feedback on thesis chapters as I am drafting them. This year, I had about 25 minutes of great questions from fellow Monash graduate students and researchers. Thanks to the SPS Symposium committee for a great event.

PhD Mid-Candidature Review Panel Presentation Slides

On 26th October 2015, I will present my in-progress PhD research on strategic subcultures in terrorist organisations to a Mid-Candidature Review Panel at Australia’s Monash University. The MCR presentation slides are here.

 

My thanks to MCR Review Panel members Professor Jude McCulloch (coauthor of Pre-Crime: Pre-emption, Precaution and the Future), Associate Professor Pete Lentini (author of Neojihadism: Towards a New Understanding of Terrorism and Extremism?), and Dr Narelle Miragliotta (coeditor of Contemporary Australian Political Party Organisations).

PhD Mid-Candidature Review Talk on Islamic State

As part of my PhD mid-candidature review I’m giving the following talk at Monash University in October (date TBC):

 

Islamic State: Insights from Strategic Subcultures Theory and Combatting Terrorist Propaganda

Strategic subcultures theory examines why and how certain terrorist groups persist over time and grow despite counterterrorism measures. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State has gained control of parts of northern Iraq and Syria. Islamic State also poses a current national security threat to Australia in terms of terrorist propaganda (including social media campaigns) and the possible radicalisation of Australian recruits. This presentation evaluates Islamic State as a potential strategic subculture and considers Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley’s guidance in How Propaganda Works (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015) about how to strengthen democratic nation-states like Australia – and countering violent extremism – through combatting terrorist propaganda.

FY2014-15 Report on Personal Research Program

Reflections and ‘lessons learned’ in FY2014-15 on my personal research program:

 

1. I spent much of FY2014-15 dealing with a rapidly changing higher education sector and university environment. The classical strategy of stable environments based on scale advantages no longer exists outside of Group of 8 universities. Two new operational models have instead emerged: a private equity-influenced emphasis on productivity, and a venture capital-influenced approach to revenue generation that uses a J-curve structure. As part of these shifts I learned more about business development, how to negotiate research contracts, and intellectual property.

 

2. I focused my personal research program on a core research area: the study of hedge funds and terrorist organisations as strategic subcultures. My personal research program has two projects: an on-going PhD at Australia’s Monash University, and the black box development of a quantitative trading system to self-finance future research. The PhD builds on the scholarship of Jack Snyder, Alastair Iain Johnston, Colin S. Gray, Ken Booth, David Haglund, Jeffrey Lantis, and others. I found new links with the work of Max Abrahms, David Aronson, Boaz Ganor, Timothy Masters, Lasse Heje Pedersen, and Nate Silver.

 

3. I deepened my approach to research design and methodology. An important part of this was reading books from the Cambridge University Press series Strategies for Social Inquiry; the Columbia University Press series Columbia Studies in Terrorism and Irregular Warfare; the Princeton University Press series Princeton Studies in International History and Politics; the Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology; and the German publisher Springer. I shifted from past work on critical theory to empirical methods.

 

4. I invested in specific resources to understand agent based models, computational social science, machine learning, and stream processing. These areas will enable my personal research program to grow in the future. They have also expanded my academic, industry, and social media networks.

 

5. I had one research publication for the year: a coauthored book chapter with Deakin University’s Ben Eltham in the Jeffrey S. Lantis edited book Strategic Cultures and Security Policies in the Asia-Pacific (Routledge, 2015), which was a reprint of a 2014 article for Contemporary Security Policy journal. I am publishing more slowly yet in higher quality outlets.

 

Some goals for my personal research program in FY2015-16:

 

1. Successfully complete Monash University’s mid-candidature review for my on-going PhD and continue with write-up.

 

2. Engage with causal analysis and process tracing as research methodologies. Continue to do related background reading for post-PhD research on Bayesian statistical inference and computational social science applications in counterterrorism.

 

3. Successfully backtest the following trading strategies: event arbitrage and mean reversion.

Human Terrain System: New Book

Today’s PhD writing time focused on the Human Terrain System (HTS): the controversial United States military program to embed anthropologists and sociologists with counterinsurgency specialists in Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s been a clear evolution of the sub-literature on HTS from initial advocacy of so-called cultural intelligence to critical post-mortems of the HTS program’s impact, results, and effectiveness.

 

Amongst the recent and new books on HTS is Montgomery McFate and Janice H. Laurence’s edited collection Social Science Goes to War: The Human Terrain System in Iraq and Afghanistan (London: Hurst & Company, 2015). I’ll be adding it to my PhD reading list – as HTS can be understood as one possible politico-military application of area studies and anthropological knowledge that also underpins the strategic culture framework I am using to examine terrorist organisations.