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 (details to be confirmed):

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

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.

Terrorist Group Aims

An excerpt from my PhD thesis notes:

 

Particular outcomes identified for terrorist groups include: (i) the achievement of a particular strategic vision (Y1); (ii) asset expropriation for decision elite or leadership control (Y2); (iii) promulgation of a particular political or religious ideology (Y3); (iv) continuation through a successor group or institution (Y4); (v) evolving into a political party or developing a political wing (Y5); (vi) devolution into an earlier developmental phase or form (Y6); and (vii) negotiation of a peace deal with a nation-state’s government (Y7).

 

Process tracing can be used to identify these group aims from terrorist communiques and propaganda.

Bungalow 8

Sometimes you can causally or process trace an interest to a specific event that involved others. I have written in the past about how I encountered the legendary Anglo-French financier Sir James Goldsmith. This was likely a remanifestation of Goldsmith’s career arc in the 1980s merger wave. James B. Stewart reveals in his book Den of Thieves (New York: Touchstone, 1992) about the 1985 Predators Ball hosted by Drexel Burnham Lambert:

 

But those thoughts quickly vanished, for far more important matters were brewing that night in Bungalow 8. Boesky was in a corner talking quietly with Icahn; Sir James was in a group with Pickens and Flom. Murdoch and Lindner were chatting with Kay and Engel, the affable host. Within only a few weeks, Pickens would launch his bid for Unocal, Peltz would bid for National Can, Sir James would attack Crown Zellerbach, and Farley would go after Northwest Industries—all with Drexel financing. (p. 138).

 

Goldsmith’s Crown Zellerbach bid used greenmail and white knight practices (pp. 160-161). It led to renewed media interest in his work . . . which eventually led to my encounter with his work in 1995, and to revisit it in 2010.