Benedict Wilkinson‘s PhD at Kings College London – now the book Scripts of Terror: The Stories That Terrorists Tell Themselves (Hurst, 2020) – addresses one of my PhD’s key research questions from a different angle (strategic choice rather than strategic subcultures): how do terrorist organisations grow, and why do they choose terrorist violence over other forms of political, religious, or social change? This book will inform my post PhD research program.
Last week I heard from Professor Theo Farrell on Twitter that noted defence and military strategist Professor Colin S. Gray had passed away. Gray’s stature in Anglo-American strategic thought was apparent to me when Strategic and Defence Studies Centre staff at The Australian National University spoke highly of Gray’s work on the “strategic imagination.” Chapters 1 and 3 of my forthcoming PhD thesis explore Gray’s early Hudson Institute work on strategic culture and my research management informed solution to the so-called Gray-Johnston debate. I look forward to engaging with Gray’s rich legacy of strategic thought.
Some updates on my academic research program:
- My Academia.edu profile has an updated academic CV.
- I’ve applied to join the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology to advance my research program project on white-collar crime.
- My Research Program interests now lists two specific projects and my methodological approach.
- My Publications page restores some Masters and other publications.
- I’m blogging research program interests at my blog Vega Theory.
I’m presenting at the Australian International Political Economy Network’s 11th Workshop on 6th February 2020 at the University of Sydney on political economist Branko Milanovic, Australia’s liberal meritocratic capitalism, and my PhD work on mobilisational counter-power. You can now read the talk abstract, hear the audio, and view the PowerPoint sides. Thanks to AIPEN for a travel grant to attend the 11th Workshop.
The draft programme is now out for the 11th Australian International Political Economy Network Workshop to be held on 6th and 7th February at the University of Sydney.
I am giving a talk on 6th February called Australia’s Liberal Meritocratic Capitalism and the Political Economy of Mobilisational Counter-Power (abstract).
AIPEN and the University of Sydney have kindly awarded me a travel stipend to attend the Workshop.
One of my 2020 projects is to prepare a book proposal for an interested international publisher that builds on my PhD thesis manuscript. Monash University’s Associate Professor Pete Lentini, Dr Luke Howie, and Dr Zareh Ghazarian were pivotal to providing feedback on the PhD thesis manuscript and also to explaining how academic publishing works. To prepare my proposal I’ll be using William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book (Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 2013).
From 4th March 2011 to 22nd November 2019, I was a part-time PhD candidate at Australia’s Monash University in political science. My doctoral thesis ‘The Development of Strategic Culture in Terrorist Organisations’ (currently under examination) drew on strategic studies and terrorism studies to advance a new understanding of how terrorist organisations can grow, evolve, and fail. My qualitative case study was Japan’s new religious movement Aum Shinrikyo. Here are some of the lessons I learned from some of the PhD Supervisors and academic scholars who I encountered along my doctoral journey:
Professor Arthur D. Shulman
I worked with Professor Shulman in 2008-13 at Australia’s Victoria University in a three-person Faculty-based Research Facilitation Unit. At the time, I was working on building a publication track record as a solo and collaborative researcher whilst also working full-time in research administration. Professor Shulman convinced me that I needed to do a PhD and he wrote a recommendation letter to Monash University. He also taught me about research programs, publications, ethics, and the Lazear-Rosen theory of “Rank-Order Tournaments as Optimum Labor Contracts” (Journal of Political Economy, vol. 89, no. 2 (1981): 861-864).
Dr Andrew (Andy) Butfoy
I had previously done a Masters mini-thesis with Dr Butfoy on the nuclear strategist Herman Kahn and North Korea’s covert nuclear weapons development program. Dr Butfoy was familiar with the strategic culture literature, particularly Professor Alastair Iain Johnston’s seminal contributions at the University of Michigan (in its doctoral program) and at Harvard University. Dr Butfoy oversaw my first chapter on the history of strategic culture in a United States think tank context (the RAND Corporation and the Hudson Institute), and an unused draft chapter on the history of terrorism studies. His novel Rogue Republic (London: Austin Macauley Publishers, 2018) captures Dr Butfoy’s wit and wisdom about strategic studies and Washington DC’s Beltway politics. After several years, Dr Butfoy left university teaching to pursue personal interests.
Associate Professor Benjamin MacQueen
Associate Professor Benjamin MacQueen contributed a strong grounding in Middle East area studies and research methodology to the preparations for my PhD’s confirmation of candidature milestone. My original PhD proposal had an overcomplicated approach that used six different research methodologies: in discussion with Associate Professor MacQueen, I eventually refined this down to a single qualitative case study that used process tracing. He provided critical feedback on my early chapters to strengthen their scholarship and their original contribution to knowledge. Associate Professor MacQueen left my PhD candidature to take up a senior administrative post, and contributed valuable feedback to my Pre-Submission Seminar/Final Review milestone.
Dr Luke Howie
Dr Howie began as an associate PhD Supervisor due to his interests in terrorism studies and critical sociology. He became my main PhD Supervisor throughout most of my PhD candidature. He challenged me to integrate my earlier period of New Journalism and Disinformation subculture search engine work into my thesis: I told him I wasn’t in that headspace now and wanted to write a more conventional United States-style thesis, with testable hypotheses, methodology, and case study analysis. One of our most important conversations concerned the timing of when to apply for academic roles in universities (being ‘on the job market’ after PhD submission), and how academic book publishing really worked. Dr Howie also taught me to integrate more data analysis into my thesis and its process tracing methodology.
Dr Zareh Ghazarian
Dr Ghazarian was an associate PhD Supervisor throughout much of my PhD candidature with expertise on political parties and the unique dynamics of micro political parties. This proved invaluable when considering Aum Shinrikyo’s failed political campaign for the Japanese Diet. Dr Ghazarian provided editorial feedback on my chapters, guidance on how to navigate candidature milestones, advice on journal article writing and publishing, and he is regularly cited by my Swinburne Online students in undergraduate Australian Politics. Dr Ghazarian’s regular appearances on the business and finance network Bloomberg highlight how to have an effective media presence when talking about your discipline or field of expertise.
Associate Professor Pete Lentini
I took Masters classes in 2005-06 with Associate Professor Pete Lentini. During my Mid-Candidature Review milestone feedback he advised me to look at Professor Ian Reader’s scholarship on Aum Shinrikyo: this was probably the most initiatory-aware analysis of founder Shoko Asahara, and the Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana-influenced “initiatory, religious sub-system” in the new religious movement. Associate Professor Lentini joined my PhD Supervisor team in 2019 to provide two rounds of solid edits on my thesis manuscript, guidance on two new chapters, advice on new religious movement and terrorism studies literature, and to oversee the administrative requirements for my final submission on 22nd November 2019. He also brought deep expertise about Russian and post-Soviet politics which was useful to several written but unused chapters that I may develop into future journal articles.
Professor Ranjeny Thomas and Helen Roberts
In 2017-18, I worked in Professor Ranjeny Thomas’s immunology lab team at the University of Queensland, and in the highly secure Translational Research Institute facility. I would occasionally see Professor Ian Frazer who developed the Gardasil vaccine. I shared an office with Helen Roberts who along with Professor Thomas spearheaded the research commercialisation company Dendright. This was in the context of a medical research environment that was different to my social sciences background. Amongst the lessons I learned from Professor Thomas was the importance of mentoring new researchers, and the definable legacy that this leaves over your academic teaching and research career. Professor Thomas’s immunology lab was collegial and high performance oriented. Whilst I had previously been trained in intellectual property, working with Helen Roberts provided many practical insights about how an IP strategy is implemented. She also taught me to use PubMed to search for the latest medical research.
In 2017, I worked in a contract consulting role for Australia’s private university Bond University. Andrew Calder is the Director of the Office of Research Services, which was a professional, team-oriented, and supportive environment. One of the insights I gained from colleagues in ORS was about the common psychological ups and downs of the PhD journey, and why resilience is really important to long-term success. At Bond, I learned how to use a Bloomberg finance terminal, read the latest literature on behavioural economics, and discovered MIT Associate Professor Vipin Narang’s scholarship in strategic culture in the context of contemporary nuclear strategy. This influenced my subsequent PhD write-up.
Dr Michael Cohen
In 2018 whilst at The Australian National University, I had the opportunity to provide research administration services to Dr Michael Cohen. Dr Cohen is an expert on nuclear strategy and we were able to discuss his use of cognitive biases and decision heuristics to study how leadership dealt with nuclear weapons. I learned more about academic publishing and how to structure a research program, how to develop projects to interest academic publishers, and how to use process tracing in the context of archival-based, historical research. This discovery was a confirmation experience that I could definitely use process tracing in my doctoral thesis, and could also expand the potential number of case studies for my post PhD research agenda.
Dr Andrew (Andy) Kennedy
In 2018 whilst at The Australian National University, I had the opportunity to provide research services to Dr Andrew Kennedy. Dr Kennedy was a doctoral student of Harvard University’s Professor Alastair Iain Johnston, and is an expert in the science and technology strategies of China and India. Johnston left strategic culture scholarship after what is called the ‘Gray-Johnston’ debate about competing methodological and paradigmatic approaches. In contrast, Dr Kennedy’s research agenda offered an illustration of what post-2002, ‘fourth generation’ scholarship on strategic culture in an emerging multipolar world might resemble. It also highlighted the importance of field research and languages, when gathering primary data and whilst studying other countries.
Associate Professor Wesley Widmaier
In 2018 whilst at The Australian National University, I had the opportunity to provide research services to Associate Professor Wesley (Wes) Widmaier. I had first encountered his political economy research whilst Associate Professor Widmaier was previously at Griffith University. At the time of my research services work I was writing up a new chapter for my PhD’s Pre-Submission Seminar/Final Review milestone, and was beginning to consider the new religious movement Aum Shinrikyo as both a terrorist organisation and a political economy phenomenon. Associate Professor Widmaier guided me to some of the relevant literature by John Maynard Keynes and Hyman Minsky; his own research on cycles of stability, crisis, and change; and the International Political Economy section of the International Studies Association. In his research seminars Associate Professor Widmaier also stressed how theory-building and methodology could support each-other. Associate Professor Widmaier’s editorship of the Review of International Political Economy journal highlighted the importance of editorial peer review, and of a research publications strategy.
Dr Sara Bice
In 2018 whilst at The Australian National University, I had the opportunity to provide research services to Dr Sara Bice. Together with my colleague Simon Stack, I worked with Dr Bice to help scope her Next Generation Engagement Program of research into Australian infrastructure investment. Whilst I had previously worked with Alexander Osterwalder’s business model canvas tools, the opportunity to work with Dr Bice meant considering the impact and engagement of her research agenda for government policymakers and industry.
Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry by Robert Jay Lifton (New York: The Free Press, 2019). Lifton is a United States psychiatrist who helped to conceptualise the 1970s and 1980s debate on ‘thought totalism’ and brainwashing. This small book is a collection of Lifton’s insights on topics ranging from the Korean War and Nazi doctors to Aum Shinrikyo and President Donald Trump’s political psychology. Lifton observes that we have a ‘protean’ Self that can change and transform under existential and psychosocial pressures. A doorway to understanding the contemporary metapolitical issues in liberal democratic, authoritarian, and totalitarian societies.
The Twittering Machine by Richard Seymour (London: The Indigo Press, 2019). Seymour is a United Kingdom and Marxist-influenced social critic who has previously profiled the UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, prior to his disastrous 2019 election campaign. In this polemical book, Seymour looks at the addictive psychology that underpins the ‘social [media] industry’, and its emergent phenomena such as internet celebrities and trolling. One of the side-effects of this industry is a new immersive dynamic of writing, Seymour observes. This book is a reflective primer to think more deeply about how you interact with the internet and social media in a more mindful and strategic way.
Status: Why Is It Everywhere? Why Does It Matter? by Cecilia L. Ridgeway (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2019). Ridgeway is a Stanford University professor and sociologist and her publisher the Russell Sage Foundation is a major philanthropic investor in social inequality research. In this book Ridgeway advances a cultural schema of status as a form of social inequality, and how this informs the importance of status beliefs and the microdynamics of status. Ridgeway’s cultural schema framework builds on the earlier insights of sociologist Charles Tilly and others to explain how social stratification works in the United States.
The Man Who Solved The Market: How Jim Simons Launched The Quant Revolution by Gregory Zuckerman (New York: Penguin Books, 2019). Jim Simons is a former National Security Agency-affiliated cryptographer and Stony Brook University mathematician who in 1982 founded Renaissance Technologies: the world’s most profitable quantitative hedge fund. Zuckerman’s investigative reportage provides a glimpse of Renaissance’s black box and how Simons used pattern recognition to generate record profits from the financial markets. Robert Mercer – Renaissance’s co-Chief Executive Officer – was a major donor and strategist to President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
The Gig Academy: Mapping Labor in the Neoliberal University by Adrianna Kezar, Tom DePaola and Daniel T. Scott (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University, 2019). In the past two decades the elite status of academic tenure has steadily been eroded in the United States and in many other countries. This book surveys what has replaced it: a ‘neoliberal university’ of more short-term and fixed term contracts, a focus on obtaining external, competitive-based research funding, and resulting social stratification. The authors trace recent developments in the academic labour market to the ‘gig economy’: labour practices adopted from Uber and similar platform capitalists.
Poisoner In Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control by Stephen Kinzer (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2019). Sidney Gottlieb (1918-1999) was a United States chemist who spearheaded the Central Intelligence Agency’s now infamous MK-Ultra research program. Kinzer fills in some gaps about Gottlieb’s life; the medical and ‘special interrogation’ projects he oversaw in MK-Ultra; and how he dealt with United States Senate and public investigations into MK-Ultra’s abuses and legacy. There is plenty of conspiratorial myth-making about what Gottlieb did and what he did (or did not) achieve: Kinzer’s investigative reportage gets closer than most to what probably happened.
Capitalism Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World by Branko Milanovic (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019). Milanovic is an influential economist and senior scholar at the City University of New York’s Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality. In this book he examines the political economy success of Liberal Meritocratic Capitalism; its challenger in Political Capitalism; and the implications for globalisation and the future of the capitalist economic system. An insightful and empirical data-informed analysis of the ‘hypercommercial’ world that is highly likely to emerge in the 21st century.
Fortress Russia: Conspiracy Theories in the Post-Soviet World by Ilya Yablokov (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018). United States political discourse since its 2016 election outcome has been dominated by allegations of Russia’s political meddling. Less well understood is the metapolitical function of conspiracy theories in Russia itself and in post-Soviet nation-states. This book based on Yablokov’s doctoral dissertation advances some new explanations as to why and it also profiles some of the more leading and influential practitioners. For contrasting views, see Eliot Borenstein’s recent book Plots Against Russia: Conspiracy and Fantasy After Socialism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2019) and Peter Pomerantsev’s This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality (London: Faber & Faber, 2019).
In my PhD thesis, I laid out some object classes and behavioural rules for the possible existence of strategic subcultures in certain terrorist organisations. One strand of my post PhD research will be to look at how to model this as a complex adaptive system. Some of the mechanisms I proposed such as cultural transmission and folklore can also be modelled. To do this I will be using the agent based modelling software Netlogo. The Santa Fe Institute has an excellent, archived course on Introduction to Agent Based Modeling if you are interested.