AIPEN 2020 Abstract

The abstract for a paper (to be written – accepted 29th November 2019) for the Australian International Political Economy Network‘s 11th annual Workshop, to be held at the University of Sydney on 6th and 7th February 2020:

Australia’s Liberal Meritocratic Capitalism and the Political Economy of Mobilisational Counter-Power

City University of New York’s political economist Branko Milanovic (Capitalism, Alone, Harvard University Press, 2019) has argued that Western countries like Australia personify a ‘liberal meritocratic capitalism’ that contrasts with China’s rising one-party ‘political capitalism’. However, Australia is currently experiencing significant social conflicts – illustrated by economic recession fears, corporate wage theft disclosures, inequality-based social stratification, and growth in climate change activist movements like Extinction Rebellion – that highlight divisive tensions in Milanovic’s ‘liberal meritocratic capitalism’. This paper draws on recent PhD qualitative research at Monash University to further develop the political economy microfoundations of an analytical theory of counter-elite driven change: mobilisational counter-power. I use process tracing to explore these significant social conflicts and what they may mean, in particular, for transdisciplinary narratives about ecological crisis, financialisation and labour exploitation.

Keywords: liberal meritocratic capitalism; microfoundations; mobilisational counter-power; political economy; process tracing

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.

Justin Newdigate’s Noise

Being an academic researcher is a performance-oriented profession. For me, some of the most cutting edge thinking about this aspect can be found in performance management. Recently, I have been looking at Justin Newdigate‘s work on Noise as a way to continue to refine my personal processes: chronic and acute, latent and manifest disturbances, interruptions, and disruptions that can interrupt you. What are the sources of noise in your own life and how do you manage them?

On Nick Srnicek

This week I’m writing a PhD chapter on Aum Shinrikyo and the Accelerationist aesthetic and political philosophy. Accelerationism extrapolates the intensification of neoliberal capitalism as a pathway to a possible post-capitalist utopia. It has its Right (Nick Land) and Left (Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek) variants which are usually examined in terms of conceptual theory-building and teleology. But it’s also possible to examine Accelerationism through other lenses.

One of these lenses is the career trajectory of a university-based Early Career Researcher: usually the first five to seven years after PhD conferral or the initial period of being an independent researcher. Dr Nick Srnicek of Kings College London illustrates some successful ECR strategies. He built an initial track record of academic publications in aesthetic theory and the philosophy of historical materialism. He has had successful collaborations with Alex Williams (on Accelerationism) and Helen Hester (on social reproduction and the crisis of work). He engaged with debates and controversies about his research – such as on Accelerationism – whilst maintaining a broader context in his research program. He has had good relationships with publishers including Verso (Inventing The Future coauthored with Alex Williams) and Polity (Platform Capitalism).

Dr Srnicek’s use of successful ECR strategies is demonstrated by an upward trajectory of Google Scholar citations and impacts. His current research is situated at the nexus of international political economy and digital economy and some recent collaborative work with Helen Hester on anti-work. This is a broader and deeper positioning of his research program than an Accelerationist description and it should create greater longevity.

Patreon Planning

One of my post-PhD projects is to launch a Patreon account that will cover aspects of my research program and news commentary. I’m following here in the footsteps of people like Disinformation alumni Jason Louv and writers I follow like Richard Seymour.

One motivation is that since 2007 when I left the Smart Internet Technology CRC my research has been self-funded. I have not had access to university-based research funds nor Early Career Researcher grants. Like most researchers I don’t earn income from refereed journal articles. Consequently, I’m looking at new ways to fund my research program and to engage with a broader audience (having been inspired by some recent experiences with translational research at The University of Queensland).

What have your Patreon experiences been like? What would you like me to write about? Drop me a note (alexburnsdisinformation at and let me know.

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.