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Research Program

On Changes @ ARC

The Australian Research Council is undergoing change. The Hon. Stuart Robert MP – our current Federal Minister of Education – outlined in a Letter of Expectation changes to the College of Experts, the ARC Linkage scheme, the National Interest Test, a request to act on reviews findings, and governance changes. On 14th December 2021, Minister Robert in a media release situated these changes in terms of research commercialisation, innovation and post-COVID 19 economic growth.

The Academy of Social Sciences in Australia summed up the consensus view and sentiment in an Academy statement on 15th December 2021. The Academy’s critique raised questions about the Minister’s funding emphasis, commercialisation strategy, and funding for Humanities and Social Sciences researchers. Twitter sentiment from many Australian academics reflected the Academy’s concerns.

Given the ARC changes: what can you Do as a researcher?

First, you need to have an internal locus of control for your research program. You will face external forces and potential barriers for undertaking your research – from disappointment at funders to university restructures – that will need courage, determination and focus to overcome. Cultivate antifragility: try and grow from the disorder around you. Take some time to work out what you can cope with and what you are also prepared to walk away from or to work around. If you have a funding landscape for your research program then you will not be so reliant on one or two funders that will be like a monopsony (one-sided market or reliant funder) that other researchers may face.

Second, try and de-fuse from your research program and try to understand both the funders you apply to and the broader sociopolitical landscape that they are in. The old Keynesian economic model of government-supported research ended around 2008 with the Great Recession or the Global Financial Crisis. I saw the effects of this in 2010-11 at non-Group of 8 universities in Australia: institutions that had high debt levels and frequent, ineffective organisational restructures. Funders have faced the same pressures in our contemporary neoliberal political economy.

Third, take some time to learn about cost-benefit analysis. Many of the Minister’s announced changes have to do with organisational reforms to the ARC that probably would have happened anyway. The changes to the College of Experts – to bring more indusry assessors and other end-users into grants assessment processes – is in line with the neoliberal emphasis on outcome-based, translational research and commercialisation. Cost-benefit and innovation models underpin this funding approach. If you learn the frameworks and the language involved then you will better understand the mindset of government, university and funder senior decision-makers.

Fourth, ask yourself: Who will benefit from my research? What kind of Change am I trying to bring into the world from my dreams, ideas, and passions? Then look at the material context of how such Changes might actually play out in the world – what their second- and third-order effects might be. Social materialist perspectives may be helpful here to better understand this dialectic between your researcher subjectivity and the actual, lived conditions of the world that you are dealing with. You might be able to set little processes in place that lead to cascades, diffusions, or that have ripple effects over time and space. One value of history is its case studies on the gulf between intent and effect, or between goal and outcome.

Funders like the Australian Research Council will continue to face changes and pressures in the future. Like the Cold War fascination with Kremlinology about Soviet Russia in political science, there are both insights yet also speculations that can eat away at your time, emotions, and mental health. If you reflect and act on some of the strategies that are suggested above then you will be better able to proactively deal with the uncertainties that funders will continue to face in the future. I look forward to learning about and reading more of your research.

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Research Program

The RBA and the Housing Bubble

One future project that I’ve started to plan out is an extension of my PhD’s strategic subcultures framework to central banks and monetary policy. I note Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe’s comments yesterday:

Speaking at the Australian Financial Review’s Business Summit, Mr Lowe confirmed that the recent rise in house prices across most of the country — to record levels in many areas — had been a topic of discussion at recent RBA board meetings.

In a veiled warning to home buyers, Mr Lowe cautioned that the prospect of lower population growth over the next couple of years could outweigh some of the other factors driving prices higher.

My PhD framework focused on terrorist organisations but I realised in 2018 that aspects of it could be extended to the political economy of central banks, debt markets, hedge funds, and financialisation. My writing model for this project is the historian Adam Tooze.

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Research Program

Two New Research Projects

Monash University conferred my political science PhD on 29th April 2020.

I am now focusing on the following two new research projects:

Project 1Formal Models for Strategic Culture, Foreign Policy and Crisis Decision-Making: this project will develop new formal models and process tracing tests of strategic culture (the use of force) to inform decision-makers in defence and foreign policy institutions.

Project 2 – Computational Strategic Culture and Decision Elite Subgroups: this project will integrate computational social science methods (such as agent-based modelling) with the corpus of fourth generation literature and the study of decision elite subgroups (in terrorist organisations, and in the political economy context of hedge funds, central banks, and white collar crime).

I also have recently launched a subscription-based newsletter on my research program.

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Research Program

Introducing Vega Theory

Welcome to my new research program blog, Vega Theory.

My research program is at the nexus of the strategic studies, terrorism studies, and political economy sub-fields. My in-progress doctoral thesis at Australia’s Monash University advances a new analytical theory of strategic subcultures in terrorist organisations, and uses process tracing to examine Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo as a case study.

This blog will advance the new research agenda outlined in my doctoral thesis. In particular, I am interested to further develop a deeper understanding of causal mechanism-based analysis, and to explore the possible existence of strategic subcultures in a range of areas, from other terrorist cells, groups, and organisations to asset management firms and hedge funds. A common theme in all of these examples is how to harness volatility (vega) for strategic advantage.

I also have an interest in developing capabilities for counter-coercion and counterdeception capabilities to deal with fraud, white-collar crime, misinformation, and information warfare. This interest draws on my past experience in editing the former subculture search engine Disinformation and in the cultic milieu. In particular, I am looking at insights from interpersonal neurobiology and social neuroscience, and their applicability to identifying causal mechanisms for countering socio-political deception.