Mapping US Power Shifts

The personal synthesis for a planned Postdoc application

1/ This week I completed the first draft of a Postdoc project proposal that the University of Melbourne will consider. The proposed project builds on my PhD thesis about strategic culture and it adds a new element: a study of contemporary United States foreign policy. A colleague expressed surprise: “I expected you might do another project,” they replied when I outlined the project proposal. However, the project makes sense given my past and current research trajectory.

2/ I really encountered US politics during my undergraduate studies and my stint as a freelance journalist. The Clinton Administration era was filled with cultural politics - from the Primary Colors novel and film to Usenet newsgroup conspiracy theories on Vince Foster’s death. Studying US politics and culture from an Australian viewpoint had its advantages - as 21C Magazine publisher and editor Ashley Crawford once described to me, we were able to analyse and to understand the US from a vantage point where we could see more.

3/ I really delved into US politics as editor and writer for the former subculture search engine Disinformation. In my first editorial stint of 1999-2003, I dealt with a range of shocks: the 2000 vote and Bush v. Gore; the September 11 terrorist attacks; the Dotcom crash, and the demise of Enron and Worldcom; and the build-up to the 2003 Iraq War. Most of this coverage is missing from the internet now but if you are interested you can find it at the Internet Archive. Many of the people I worked with - Russ Kick, Nick Mamatas, Preston Peet, Klint Finley, Jason Louv - have gone on to become significant writers and journalists.

4/ Another formative experience for the possible Postdoc project was my 2018-19 stint at the College of Asia-Pacific, The Australian National University. Here, I got to interact with leading scholars on US nuclear policy, intelligence, national security, and strategic studies. The methods and research program discussions I had sharpened aspects of my PhD thesis, and gave me a deeper understanding of the Australia-United States politico-military alliance. I also saw how research program activities underpinned new publications and grant applications.

5/ More recently, I’ve considered US domestic politics and foreign policy whilst teaching Australian politics and foreign policy for Swinburne Online. I’ve had to explain why the Australian system (influenced by Westminster conventions from the United Kingdom) differs from the US, and how we lack some of the US safeguards such as a Bill of Rights. I’ve watched how recent Australian Prime Ministers have taken on the campaign conventions of United States politicians: our Pentecostalist Prime Minister Scott Morrison has modelled himself in part on US President Donald Trump.

6/ Whilst writing the Postdoc application, US foreign policy continues to have a daily impact. I’ve shifted my VegaTheory.com daily links (such as for today) to cover US publications and think tanks - a re-emergence of my earlier news items for the Disinformation subculture search engine. I’ve closely followed the debate on John Bolton’s memoir The Room Where It Happened. I save long-form articles like a Christian Science Monitor profile of US neo-isolationism under President Trump. As in 2000-01, things are moving rapidly.

7/ I wrote several unused chapters for my PhD thesis on Accelerationism and the growth of illiberal Alt-Right politics. More recently, I’ve read Arktos and Imperium publications on the illiberal current which has influenced US neo-isolationism. This forms another facet of my Postdoc proposal in terms of the current challenge that liberal democratic institutions face. Illiberal Alt-Right politics is a form of metapolitics - how we think about politics and use it to solve social problems.

8/ You can see here a range of experiences - journalism, website editing, research administration, teaching, and subcultural research - becoming a personal synthesis for where my research is going next. The Postdoc application brings these different elements and experiences together. Whether this particular project is successful in getting funded or not, I now have a clear direction for my post PhD research program.