Archive | Research RSS feed for this section

The Challenges of Teaching Intelligence Studies

28 Jun

This post is based on a short presentation I gave as part of a job interview at the International Politics department of Aberystwyth University. I didn’t get the position, but I am very grateful to Jenny Mathers and the rest of the InterPol department for the chance to visit Aberystwyth. 

In addressing the question of what are the challenges of teaching intelligence studies, I’d like to focus on four main challenges that I see as significant. These obviously are not the be all and end all, but are succinct summaries of key issues that I see as affecting how and why we teach.

spooksI’d argue that one of the main challenges is addressing student expectations of what intelligence is. These expectations are at least in part formed by a lifetime of exposure to popular cultural interpretations of intelligence, such as television programmes like Alias, Spooks, 24, and The Night Manager, the Bourne films, video games like the Metal Gear Solid series, and so on and so forth. As much as we in academia would like to think otherwise, films like Bridge of Spies, the Mission Impossible series, and Burn After Reading seem to have a much greater impact on the way people think about intelligence in the wider world than our publications in scholarly journals, conference papers, or blog posts. Oh how I wish it were otherwise!

So, it’s vital to demonstrate that the realities of intelligence are at the same time more pedestrian and more exciting than any film, television programme, video game, or book. For example, while intelligence analysis is a vital component of what intelligence is, it’s dull, painstaking, and often long-winded. I’m not sure a real time programme that involves watching analysts pour over decrypted emails would get quite the same viewing figures as Jack Bauer torturing and killing his way around the world. On the other hand, the career of Oleg Penkovsky or the story of Able Archer ’83 is far more thrilling than any fictional accounts. Able Archer ’83 in particularly informative. The way in which Soviet intelligence gathering that was at its heart based on faulty and often false assumptions about NATO intentions towards the USSR led us closer to nuclear war than any time since the Cuban crisis is a fascinating story. Tales of KGB and GRU officers wandering the streets of London and Brussels at 2 in the morning looking for excessive numbers of lights on in government offices never fails to catch the interest of students.

Continue reading

The Pakistani Nuclear Weapons Programme and Globalisation in the 1970s

6 Mar

sargent_ASTReading Daniel Sargent’s excellent recent book A Superpower Transformed provoked me to re-assess some of the framework supporting my own research into US-UK and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons project in the 1970s. Sargent manages to crystalise some of the conclusions I was tentatively reaching towards, very handy as I work on the manuscript for my own book. One issue that formed a component of my work – but that I hadn’t made prominent enough – was globalisation. Not just globalisation in terms of markets, but in the emergence of modern transnational movements, networks, and ideas (such as human rights), and the significant role they played in US foreign policy.

Sargent’s thesis forced me to re-appraise the role that globalisation and transnationalism played in US-UK nuclear non-proliferation policy, and in Pakistan’s own clandestine bomb programme. The Pakistani nuclear weapons programme had a lengthy history, but only really emerged as an international issue after the catalytic Indian nuclear test of May 18 1974. This spurred Islamabad into action and gave leaders such as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Muhammad Zia ul-Haq the necessary oppositional context to push forward a national nuclear programme.

Continue reading

Supervision, scholarship, and empathy

29 Jan
Above: I struggled to think of an image for 'supervisor'. So here's the late, great Carl Sagan.

Above: I struggled to think of an image for ‘supervisor’. So here’s the late, great Carl Sagan.

My biggest teaching challenge for the 2015-16 academic year has been taking on responsibility for supervising the final year dissertations of eleven undergraduate students. It’s very rewarding to be given this job, but it also makes me only too aware of the profound responsibility that I now have for the research of junior scholars.

It’s ironic that as academics, we all worry about our own research: its quality, accessibility, and implications. I’m grappling with that right now as I explore the relationships between governments, the secret intelligence services, and media institutions during the 1980s. Supervision adds to this. You’re now worried on behalf of a cohort of other scholars!

One way I’ve tried to approach this is by using the lessons I’ve learned from those who have supervised me. I’ve been lucky to benefit from the advice and support of a number of great people since I returned to university in 2008. In particular, my Masters supervisors Dolores Janiewski and Malcolm McKinnon, and my doctoral supervisors Fabian Hilfrich and Robert Mason.

Continue reading

Banning Panorama: January 27, 2016

13 Jan

On the 27th of this month, I’ll be giving a paper as part of Glasgow Caledonian University’s regular History Seminar. This is especially pleasing for me, as GCU was where I spent my undergrad years in the 1990s.

GCU_Seminar_27_01

The paper is all about a component of my current postdoctoral research, which examines attempts by the Thatcher and Reagan governments to influence domestic and international public perceptions of intelligence and nuclear issues during the 1980s and the global media’s responses to this.

Continue reading

A Post-doctoral Position, Hurrah!

20 Aug

iash_logoThe year or so since I had my PhD viva has been one of ups and downs, highs and lows. That, its seems, is the norm for the newly minted academic Doctor and something I entirely expected. In fact, it’s a subject that I’m writing a fairly long post on, but for now I’d like to talk about a recent ‘up’.

I’m delighted to say that I’ve been awarded a Post-doctoral Research Fellowship by the Institute for  Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) at the University of Edinburgh. The fellowship runs from September 2015 to May 2016 and allows me to research one of the building blocks of a much bigger post-doctoral project.

Continue reading

Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Nuclear Identity

13 Apr
Hogg

Jonathan Hogg’s forthcoming book British Nuclear Culture

Last Friday, April 10, the Centre for the Study of Modern Conflict at the University of Edinburgh played host to a workshop on ‘Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Nuclear Identity’. This formed part of an ongoing series of workshops under the auspices of the British International Studies Association’s Global Nuclear Order Working Group. I was delighted to be able to organise this very stimulating and interesting session that brought together faculty, postgraduates, and practitioners from across the UK.

The aim of the day was to discuss and debate various interpretations of ‘nuclear identity’ and how the work we are doing in our different disciplines can fruitfully be shared. One of the main aims – for me certainly – was to grapple with how we understand ‘identity’ and how do we analyse it in our different disciplines and across disciplinary boundaries. In regard to this, I was struck by how much common group we all shared, whether working in history, political science, international relations, or within the nuclear establishment itself.

Continue reading

Teaching the Nuclear Cold War: Week 9, the ‘Islamic Bomb’

16 Nov

Important aide memoire for self: those subjects that you really, really know a lot about, have done extensively researched, and that you’ve produced scholarly work about. Those are the ones that are hardest to teach.

For this part of the course, we turned our gaze towards proliferation and the developing world. In particular, the West’s interactions with the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme. Which just so happens to be the subject of my doctoral thesis. The intent behind this was twofold: 1) to explore how the media influences perceptions about national (or what they perceive as transnational) nuclear programmes. 2) to explore attitudes towards national nuclear programmes within governments.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: