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2022: Let's Go!
A new year means a renewed focus
2022 is a new year of renewed focus for me. Thanks to the financial support of regular subscribers I am consolidating my online presence, independent research program, and content scope for this Substack newsletter.
Here’s some updates and resources for you:
In 2021, I un-embargoed my 2020 Monash University political science PhD. It’s called The Development of Strategic Culture in Terrorist Organisations. It’s a synthesis of strategic studies, terrorism studies, and political economy. I developed a new analytical framework to understand how some terrorist organisations grow rapidly and can become dominant. I used a qualitative research methodology called process tracing to look at a failure case: Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo. In particular, I looked at three causal mechanisms: cultural transmission, social learning, and folklore. As part of this, I have also released the milestone documentation and annual presentations that I made during my 2011-20 part-time PhD candidature. Enjoy.
I’m releasing archival documentation on my Academia.edu public profile. For years, I’ve had presentations, papers and other material available across a professional academic website, and other platforms. I’m consolidating this material all on Academia.edu. This includes my MSc (2002-04) and MA (2005-06) essays (I had a hard-drive crash in 2004 so some are missing); my history of research presentations; and my archival book project Personal Mythologists (1994-97 New Journalism), which I will continue to upload. It will also include several blog projects (LiveJournal, TinyLetter, VegaTheory) which I will archive on Academia.edu. These projects began at different time periods - they were each experiments - and it is now time to integrate.
I’m revamping my personal website. As noted above I’m migrating the majority of my archived content to Academia.edu. The redesigned personal website will function as a professional academic website that provides basic details of my research program and publications.
New academic publications: In 2021, I published a Futures journal article (you can read the Author Accepted manuscript version for free) about Professor Richard Slaughter, who pioneered the sub-fields of Critical Futures Studies and Integral Futures Studies, and under which I studied and worked with in 2002-04 at Swinburne University of Technology’s former Strategic Foresight program and its former Australian Foresight Institute. Disinformation fellow alumnus Roy Christopher and I published our joint collaborative interview of journalist Simon Reynolds in RoyC’s recent book Follow for Now, Vol. 2: More Interviews With Friends and Heroes (Punctum Books, 2021), which you can download and read for free. This was a lot of fun to do. Punctum Books is also publishing RoyC’s forthcoming new book Escape Velocity in 2022. RoyC also included me in the 2021 edition of his influential Summer Reading List series.
Here’s some of what I have learned in 2020 and 2021 (the COVID-19 pandemic years so far):
Substack as a publishing platform: When I started this Substack newsletter I had a narrow focus on documenting a post PhD research program. A few months earlier I had started the VegaTheory blog as a similar experiment, and before that had also briefly experimented with the Patreon platform. Of all of these options Substack was the one that academics who I closely follow - like Professor Branko Milanovic and Professor Adam Tooze - flocked to in order to engage with the public and to reach new audiences. Substack rapidly became a way to illustrate both engagement and impact. Its metrics provided me with a way to quickly evaluate what content was more engaging to readers. I also took part in a Substack writers incubator - which was a great refresh from my Disinformation editorial and writing period (1998-2008).
Hedging volatility (vega) is important yet the key may actually be mastering the change in the rate of change (gamma). In 2019 as I neared the end of my Monash University political science PhD, I started the VegaTheory blog project. The first couple of months of posts coincided with my examination period and the COVID-19 pandemic’s initial outbreak. I had modelled the blog project in my mind on Professor Tyler Cowen and Professor Alex Tabarrok’s popular economics blog Marginal Revolution. Then my home city of Melbourne, Australia went into the world’s longest COVID-19 pandemic related lockdown. I wrote a series of Postdoc and grant applications which in some cases accurately foresaw some sociopolitical developments, but which were all unsuccessful. Hedging volatility only helped to create some space for a limited decision cycle. What was needed instead was to deal proactively with the rate of change unleashed by economic and sociopolitical reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic. I will write more on this in the near future, to explain further.
Build your own infrastructure. The trading educator Alexander Elder once remarked that an important life skill is to learn to identify and to avoid what are ‘negative sum’ situations. Elder’s insight is a powerful metaphor for the neoliberal political economy: in many situatins we are giving away our education (human capital) and labour in ways that actually cost us. Professor Inger Mewburn (The Thesis Whisperer) and Dr Karen Kelsy (The Professor Is In) have highlighted these conditions in Australian and United States universities. For me, a major insight was ex-Goldman Sachs trader Anton Kreil’s advice to build your own infrastructure. By using Academia.edu to archive content, running a Wordpress personal website, publishing this Substack newsletter, and having a personal Twitter account (@alexburns), I am able to move more quickly than the traditional publishing cycle for academic journals. I’m also working with long-time collaborator Dr Ben Eltham (Monash University) - on a new academic journal article - also check out his popular Twitter profile. I’m aware of limits with using these platforms, and share more insights on this in the near future.
In midlife it’s time to focus on major, long-term oriented projects. About twenty years ago the Texan fiction writer Don Webb told me I should be writing books. This was around the transitional period in my life where I left an early ‘go go’ start-up phase of a freelance journalism career to edit and write for the Disinformation website, do an MSc in Strategic Foresight, do an MA in Counter-Terrorism Studies, and work for the Smart Internet Technology Cooperative Research Centre. I spent 2011 to 2020 working full-time in research administration and management, doing part-time tutoring and teaching, and doing a part-time political science PhD. From all of this I got a lot of writing experience: I put in my 10,000 hours as the late Professor K. Anders Ericsson might have described it. Now, it’s time to write some books. I un-embargoed my PhD in part because if I was to turn it into a book I would now completely rewrite it with new material. I have also been gathering notes for a possible book on the Alt-Right political subculture called Dissident Metapolitics - a nod to the late conservative scholar Professor Peter Viereck.
Thanks for reading this Substack newsletter. Check out my professional academic website, Academia.edu public profile, and Twitter account for more. If you are able to subscribe then you will be supporting my independent research: thank you.