A brief return

Time to return to this neglected blog to share some personal updates.

First, I recently completed the PhD. I submitted it for examination in November 2021, passed with minor amendments in March 2022, then submitted the amendments and had my doctorate conferred in April 2022.

I first posted about it here back in 2015, when I had started it at Melbourne University. I ended up finishing it at Monash University. It was an exhausting journey, through difficult personal circumstances at times, and I couldn’t be more pleased to have seen it through. Here is the abstract:

What did you do in their war? Roles and agency in transnational support for armed movements

The majority of armed conflicts across the world, since the end of the Cold War, have involved at least one side that mobilises support from non-state actors located abroad. This thesis helps build scholarly knowledge on the phenomenon of transnational support for armed movements, within the academic discipline of political science, particularly the fields of civil war studies and terrorism studies.

Focusing on two crucial but understudied aspects of transnational support, roles and agency, the thesis provides a systematic and granular understanding of the phenomenon. There are many ways that people can support armed movements based in other countries, such as by lobbying, sending money, carrying out violence within their host state, or travelling to the conflict zone to fight on the frontlines, provide medical support, or assist with technical skills. While many scholars have sought to understand why people become involved in providing such support, relatively few have examined what influences the specific roles people adopt once they have become involved. This thesis also examines the extent to which individual transnational supporters can exert agency over which roles they adopt, and how they fulfil them, given overarching factors that can shape and constrain their individual preferences.

This thesis provides a new theoretical contribution for understanding these transnational dimensions of violent conflicts. It strengthens the empirical grounding of this theoretical contribution by conducting a mixed methods case study of Islamic State’s mobilisation of transnational support, specifically from within Australia between 2013 and 2018. The case study includes a historical outline of the evolution of jihadist armed movements and the rise of Islamic State, a broadly focused qualitative analysis of Islamic State’s transnational mobilisation, a detailed quantitative analysis of Islamic State’s mobilisation of transnational support from within Australia, and an in-depth qualitative analysis of one specific Islamic State support network in Sydney.

Through this empirically substantiated theoretical contribution, the thesis finds that the roles adopted by an armed movement’s transnational supporters are influenced by factors occurring at multiple levels of analysis: personal characteristics and circumstances at the micro-level, the preferences of the armed movement’s organisational leadership at the meso-level, and the host state security environment at the macro-level. The thesis also identifies how the preferences of the armed movement’s organisational leadership, and the host state security environment, influence not only which roles individuals adopt but also how the individuals fulfil their roles. It identifies mechanisms through which the preferences of the armed movement’s leadership influence role adoption and role fulfilment via the transnational exercise of organisational control. It similarly identifies mechanisms through which host state security measures make some transnational support roles more feasible to adopt than others, and some ways of fulfilling support roles more realistic than others. This shows that efforts to understand which roles an armed movement’s transnational supporters adopt cannot focus solely on the individuals’ initial preferences or on micro-level factors, as this would assume an unrealistic amount of agency and fail to account for the crucial influence of these broader factors. 

I undertook the thesis to make a strong contribution to both terrorism studies and civil war studies, and to broader political science efforts to bridge the gap between the two fields. Of course, the ultimate test of that will be when I publish parts, or all, of the PhD, and build off these ideas in future work, to open these arguments to further scholarly scrutiny. That lies ahead.

I’m now employed as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Victoria University, working with a great team and continuing my research on terrorism and security issues.

I have also joined the editorial board of the Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism. This follows the special issue I co-edited with Professor Debra Smith and Dr Joe Ilardi on the topic of Navigating the Divide: cooperation between academia and national security practitioners.

Regular readers of this blog will know that this a topic that has fascinated me for years. This is partly for personal reasons because several of the projects I’ve worked on over the last decade, at both Monash University and Victoria University, have been partnered with government agencies such as Victoria Police and Defence Science and Technology (DST). This fascination is also because of the practical, political and ethical questions raised by such research. Academic-practitioner cooperation, particularly on national security issues, has a long and contested history in the social sciences.

It was really enjoyable to address this topic in the special issue, thanks to the excellent articles submitted, and indispensable support from Julian Droogan, Nell Bennett and the peer reviewers. Here are all the articles:

I also published four Commentary pieces last year for the the Addressing Violent Extremism and Radicalisation to Terrorism (AVERT) Research Network:

I have not done many media interviews for several years, but some recent exceptions are:

At Victoria University I’ve been doing work on a range of topics that I haven’t published on yet: terrorist target selection, threat assessment tools, and planetary health. That last one was a great detour from my traditional research area, and one I’m keen to return to. I’ve also been continuing my research on jihadism, far-right violent extremism, and other terrorist threats, while Professor Debra Smith and I have returned to working on our book on the history of terrorism and counter-terrorism in Australia since the 1960s.

Finally, I have some decisions to make about this blog. Having not updated it in well over a year, I might formally close it down. I would keep a public archive of it, as I’ve loved posting here over the past ten years, but might otherwise call it a day for The Murphy Raid.

On the other hand, there have been so many developments I would like to post on: two new counter-terrorism strategy documents, the High Court’s decision on citizenship revocation, the Federal Court’s decision on an indefinite detention based on an ASIO security assessment, the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor’s inquiry into the High Risk Terrorism Offenders legislation, the Brereton inquiry, the many implications of the change of government on the politics and practice of national security in Australia, the question of the next Independent Intelligence Review, and so on.

Yet I haven’t kept up casual posts and regular updates here, so I have some decisions to make about this blog in the weeks ahead. Thanks so much to all of you who have been reading it. And a huge thanks to all of who have made any supportive remarks on my PhD journey over the past years.

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