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.
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.
- Theory–Building 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.
Sarah E. Knight, Carys Keane and Amy Murphy (of the UK-based Defense Science and Technology Laboratory and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service) have a new article out in Terrorism and Political Violence:
Anticipating whether an adversary group will continue to use their usual (“conventional”), expected attack methods is important for military and counterterrorism practitioners tasked with protecting the security of others. Conventional attack methods are by their nature easier to plan and prepare for whilst “innovative” methods may take those responsible for security and counterterrorism by surprise and, as such, may have more impact and more serious consequences. The present study aimed to develop understanding of how, when, and why adversary groups might decide to use conventional attack methods or opt to do something innovative instead. A literature review was conducted and findings were applied to develop a thorough understanding of the decision-making process that underlies an adversary group’s choice of attack method. Identified are three stages preceding the execution of an attack: a) “strategic direction”; b) “incubation”; and c) “planning and preparation,” plus “overarching” and “contextual” factors that can influence the process at each stage. It is suggested that it is these factors and how they influence decision-making that result in innovative methods being used to execute an attack, or convention prevailing. Findings can aid practitioners and policy-makers in counterterrorism, security, and law enforcement, to support their understanding, evaluation, and countering of current and future threats.
On 26th October 2015, I will present my in-progress PhD research on strategic subcultures in terrorist organisations to a Mid-Candidature Review Panel at Australia’s Monash University. The MCR presentation slides are here.
My thanks to MCR Review Panel members Professor Jude McCulloch (coauthor of Pre-Crime: Pre-emption, Precaution and the Future), Associate Professor Pete Lentini (author of Neojihadism: Towards a New Understanding of Terrorism and Extremism?), and Dr Narelle Miragliotta (coeditor of Contemporary Australian Political Party Organisations).
From an email to my PhD Supervisor about what I’m working on:
- A revised Chapter 1 on strategic culture will now include a new conceptual framework that examines and integrates the SC literature on two dimensions: theory-building and foreign policy analysis. For now, I have dubbed this a ‘spectrum framework’. It incorporates feedback from the ISA panelists, and from Jeffrey Lantis on recent theory-building / research design debates in the so-called fourth generation (post-2000) of strategic culture. I will contrast the proposed new framework with Alastair Iain Johnston’s generations framework (from his PhD and book Cultural Realism, and from the 1995 International Security article ‘Thinking About Strategic Culture’).
- A revised Chapter 2 will include a formal model of strategic culture / subcultures in terrorist organisations. Jacob Shapiro’s recent book The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013) is directly relevant, and may answer some of the concerns you initially raised about how to study terrorist organisations from an organisational perspective. For the chapter format I am using as a ‘writing model’ example Chapter 2 from Michael C. Horowitz’s PhD and subsequent book The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010) in which Horowitz presents his Adoption-Capacity Theory.
- Rather than a separate methodology chapter I am thinking of integrating this into methodology sections in the two case study chapters. The methods to be used are: causal / decision / process tracing of the Peter Bergen / Steve Coll / Michael Scheuer / Lawrence Wright investigative journalism (Al Qaeda chapter), and interpretivist / qualitative / thematic text coding of Robert Jay Lifton / Haruki Marukami interviews (Aum Shinrikyo chapter). Two of the key methods books I am using are Derek Beach and Rasmus Brun Pedersen’s Process-Tracing: Foundations and Guidelines (University of Michigan Press, 2013), which I picked up at ISA, and Greg Guest, Kathleen MacQueen, and Emily E. Namey’s Applied Thematic Analysis (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2012). I attended a couple of ISA panels with Patrick Thaddeus Jackson (The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations) that were helpful to think through methodological issues.
- I have some material for Chapter 5 on Conclusions / Further Research.
- I have started to scope some material that might inform future journal articles beyond the PhD, such as the use of knowledge representation / microfoundations for the underlying logics, and computational cultural psychology as one of several new methodologies for future case studies. I also found this week a parallel approach to my case studies in the new book Global Shell Games: Experiments in Transnational Relations, Crime, and Terrorism (Cambridge University Press, 2014) which uses an experimental political science approach to study organisations, and which has Jason Sharman (Griffith University) as a book co-author. So, more for post-PhD work, I am also considering experimental research methods as a possible avenue.
Confirmation of candidature is a PhD project’s one year milestone. You can download the second, revised version of my PhD Confirmation of Candidature document here. It outlines my project scope, some of the relevant literature, key research questions, and methodological framework.
My thanks to Michael Janover, Pete Lentini, Ben MacQueen, Andy Butfoy, and Luke Howie at Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry for their critical feedback.