Ad Astra: Space Migration Journalism

From 1994 to 2008, I was a freelance journalist and editor for REVelation, 21C, Marketing,, Artbyte, and the Disinformation subculture search engine.

I’m collecting together some of this journalism with new commentaries and reflections in an ebook series called Novice New Journalism. The first ebook called Ad Astra: Space Migration Journalism has an preorder page and is due out on 30th June 2023. I’d appreciate it if you could let your networks know.

Here’s the preorder description:

Why space colonization initiatives underwent a trajectory change in the late 1990s

In 1997 the Australian political scientist Dr Alex Burns was a Contributing Editor to the influential science and culture magazine 21CAd Astra: Space Migration Journalism collects together two articles on the all too human barriers that we face to colonizing the galaxy.

The Tight Stuff is a postmortem on the NASA space shuttle Challenger‘s disaster on 28th January 1986 and how it thwarted early plans to commercialize space. Forward The Foundation – originally written for 21C and later published for the first time on the legendary Disinformation website – explores scientist Marshall Savage’s ambitious plans for Humanity to journey to the stars. Written before Savage’s First Millennial Foundation later morphed into the non-profit Living Universe Foundation this reportage captures the founder’s original vision. A new Introduction contextualizes both pieces and discusses the challenges of New Journalism reportage.

For fans of Elon Musk (SpaceX), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin), Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic), Peter Thiel (Palantir), and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (The Decadent Society), Ad Astra: Space Migration Journalism tells the almost forgotten story of late 1990s pioneers – and how we can culturally recover and enact their utopian impulse today.

ISA 2024 Paper Submission 2: Power and Enacting Real Utopias

I’ve also just submitted the following paper proposal for consideration at the International Studies Association‘s next annual convention to be held in San Francisco in April 2024.

Power and Enacting Real Utopias

Since the Cold War’s end in 1991, the politico-economic ideology called neoliberalism has dominated Western societies. The sub-field and the social theory of Utopics challenges this neoliberal hegemony. Now that geopolitical wild cards like the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russo-Ukrainian War; and a looming global recession have begun to erode neoliberalism’s microfoundations and its public consent, new postcapitalist and post-liberal visions are beginning to emerge. This paper critically examines,  contrasts, and compares three different approaches: (1) the late Marxist sociologist Professor Erik Olin Wright’s advocacy of real utopias; (2) Shrii Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar’s progressive utilisation theory (PROUT) seen via the macrohistorical and futures studies work of Professor Sohail Inayatullah; and (3) the Dissident Right white nationalist futures of publisher Greg Johnson, his critics, and his deplatforming by influential companies like Amazon. How does each approach envision both individual and collective power? What kind of utopia does each approach seek to come into being in the world, and by what means? How can relationality help us to understand, envision, and to enact the kinds of utopias that we normatively desire in the world as preferable?

ISA 2024 Paper Submission 1: Aum Shinrikyo’s Relational Afterlives

I’ve just submitted the following paper proposal for consideration at the International Studies Association‘s next annual convention to be held in San Francisco in April 2024. After dealing with COVID-19, health, type 2 diabetes, and autism impacts, if accepted this will be my first public talk about my 2020 Monash University PhD (also see my PhD document archive) and some of the current debates on Japan’s new religious movement Aum Shinrikyo. We’ll see if it gets up!

Aum Shinrikyo’s Relational Afterlives

On 20th March 1995, Japan’s new religious movement Aum Shinrikyo conducted a sarin gas ‘surprise attack’ on Tokyo’s commuter subway system. This proposal makes an original contribution through the study of how Aum Shinrikyo’s internal strategic subculture – its organizational mechanisms that facilitated and prioritised the terrorist use of force against government and civilian targets – grew as a trajectory with Japan’s asset price bubble (1986-91) and the Soviet Union’s breakup in 1990-91. Despite Japan’s execution of its founder and former leader Shoko Asahara on 6th July 2018, Aum Shinrikyo continues to exist in relational afterlives, such as in the Twitter commentary of independent researcher Sarah Hightower (@nezumi_ningen); James Cox‘s novel Roppongi, Andrew Fox’s Promethean Terrorists framework, Erica Baffelli‘s study of former Aum renunciates, and the growing undercurrents of Amazon Kindle Publishing ebooks. I consider ideological parallels to the Dissident Right’s metapolitical thinkers in the United States, and for the policy implementation of the Biden Administration’s U.S. National Strategy To Counter Antisemitism released in May 2023. In particular, I address risk factors for identifying how violent extremist radicalisation and recruitment occurs in ideologically-motivated religious subcultures, and the internet’s critical role.

OCIS 2023 Talk & Update

My upcoming talk Countering Nuclear Blackmail: New Policy Options for Australia – on a panel with ANU’s Dr Andrew Carr and the University of Melbourne’s Dr Melissa Conley Tyler for OCIS 2023 is scheduled for the 4pm-5:30pm Security session on Thursday 6th July (Arts West North Wing-356). You can access the draft program here.

My author byline for research program publications and conferences is now: Dr Alex Burns, Alumnus, Politics & International Relations, Monash University. I’ve updated my CV, and Google Scholar profiles.

I’m also publishing new material on my Substack newsletter.

13th AIPEN Workshop Talk

I gave the following talk at the 13th AIPEN Workshop to be held at the University of Melbourne on 10th February 2023 – thanks to Dr Sara Meger and colleagues for organising. You can view the talk’s slides here, and hear the talk and Q&A audio here. In the talk recording I mentioned a Downtown Josh Brown piece called You Weren’t Supposed To See That.

From Jones to Sunak: How The City and Financialised Hedge Funds Shape The United Kingdom’s Political Economy

Rishi Sunak’s rapid ascension to becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in October 2022 signalled how financialisation and capital accumulation shape the United Kingdom’s political economy. This paper investigates how Sunak’s career in Goldman Sachs and in the hedge funds the Children’s Investment Fund Management and Theleme Partners gave him the reputation and the decision-making skills to outflank former Prime Minister Liz Truss, whose Trussonomics fiscal policies sought to provide unfunded tax arbitrage for her 1% donors. The blow up in October 2022 of Liability Driven Investment leveraged strategies in United Kingdom pension funds created a classic Bagehot-style run on the gilt: financial markets reacted by deligitimating Truss and instead backing Sunak. I show how Sunak was able to use the unique meso-level (organisational) strategic subcultures of hedge funds to accumulate capital and to gain valuable tactical skills for his subsequent political career, from COVID-19 crisis alpha (reflected in Theleme Partners’ position size in the pharmaceutical firm Moderna), to pursuing new fiscal and monetary policies that reflected the City’s Big Bank deregulation experience under former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, far more than Liz Truss’s wishful idolisation of Thatcher as a leadership symbol. Global political economy lessons are drawn for future capital accumulation in Sydney (Australia), Tokyo (Japan), and Singapore financial hubs, despite the high likelihood of a bear market and continued geopolitical volatility. The likely result despite counter-hegemonic demands will be a version of the Matthew Effect: the (already) successful will become more successful.

AIPEN 12th Workshop Talk

The Australian International Political Economic Network is holding its 12th Workshop at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia on the 3rd and 4th February 2022 (rescheduled due to COVID-19 lockdowns). AIPEN and UQ have kindly provided me with a travel bursary to attend the 12th Workshop: my thanks to Associate Professor Shahar Hameiri, Ms. Monica Di Leo, and Ms. Olivia Formby for their help. Here is the abstract of my proposed talk:

The Political Economy of Media Debates on COVID-19’s Origins

Dr Alex Burns, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne.

Since its emergence in China’s city Wuhan in late 2019, the COVID-19 virus has caused an international pandemic, a major public health emergency, and has had significant economic impacts. Two rival explanatory hypotheses developed regarding COVID-19’s origins: (1) zoonotic disease transfer from animals to humans, likely involving bats, and (2) a ‘lab leak’ theory involving a possible accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The World Health Organisation promoted the zoonotic disease transfer hypothesis: this became the dominant explanation during COVID-19’s initial global outbreak in 2020. However, Trump Administration officials in the United States promoted the ‘lab leak’ theory in the geopolitical context of a trade war with China. The ‘lab leak’ theory – initially dismissed as fringe conspiratorial thinking – gained further media coverage in 2021 after long-form investigative journalism profiles by Nicholson Baker (New York Magazine) and Nicholas Wade (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists). These profiles led to renewed debate in the media about scientific research funding; the promises and dangers of virology research; the history of laboratory accidents; and the difficulties of international governance and verification. This presentation investigates the political economy of this media debate on COVID-19’s origins, and it also provides a contemporary update to the influential propaganda model developed by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky (Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media).

You can listen to my AIPEN 11th Workshop talk from 2020 here.