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.

The Development of Strategic Culture in Terrorist Organisations

My political science PhD at Monash University – The Development of Strategic Culture in Terrorist Organisations – has been finalised, certified, and archived. It is under embargo until 2023 to facilitate publishing from it. My thanks to PhD Supervisors Pete Lentini, Luke Howie, Zareh Ghazarian, Benjamin MacQueen, and Andy Butfoy. Also thanks to my PhD examiners Kumar Ramakrishna, Andrew Newman, and Brad Williams for their deep expertise and helpful commentary.

ROPE: Pre-Doctoral Research Section

I’m working on my Research Opportunity & Performance Evidence (ROPE) section for future grant applications to the Australian Research Council. Here’s my summary of my pre-doctoral research (1994-2011):

Pre-Doctoral Research: My freelance journalism with original research (1994-2004) and pre-doctoral research (1999-2011) focused on subculture analysis, understanding how global risk events affected journalists, digital culture and internet sociology, and theory-testing in journalism and disruptive innovation. As a freelance journalist I wrote for 21C, REVelation, Marketing, Desktop, and Artbyte—including interviews with J.G. Ballard, Noam Chomsky, Jack Sarfatti, Robert Anton Wilson, and Terence McKenna. I also edited and wrote for the United States-based former subculture website Disinformation (1998-2008) for which I covered the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the 2000 and 2004 United States elections. I presented on this original research to the This Is Not Art (1999-2004) and Straight Out of Brisbane (2002) youth culture festivals.

I undertook Masters studies at Swinburne University in strategic foresight (2002-04) and at Monash University in counter-terrorism studies (2005-06) which provided research mentoring opportunities with Professor Richard Slaughter, Dr Joseph Voros, Dr Peter Hayward, Associate Professor Pete Lentini, Dr David Wright-Neville, and Mr Philip Gregory. I contributed Masters essays to several of Professor Slaughter’s projects including The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies: Professional Edition (2005) which have since been cited and re-published in book and peer reviewed CD-ROM anthologies. My 2006 MA mini-thesis ‘Fearful Asymmetries: Herman Kahn’s Nuclear Threat Models and the DPRK’s Nuclear Weapons Program’ with Dr Andrew Butfoy developed an escalation model using Kahn’s insights to understand North Korea’s nuclear missile development and testing.

Scripts of Terror

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.

On Colin S. Gray

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.

Academic Research Program Update

Some updates on my academic research program:

  1. My profile has an updated academic CV.
  2. I’ve applied to join the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology to advance my research program project on white-collar crime.
  3. My Research Program interests now lists two specific projects and my methodological approach.
  4. My Publications page restores some Masters and other publications.
  5. I’m blogging research program interests at my blog Vega Theory.