My research is on US, British and Australian foreign and security policy. I am interested in critical (primarily constructivist) approaches in IR. My work explores the role of language, identity, popular culture, domestic politics and strategic agency in the foreign policy process. At present, my research falls into five related themes: foreign policy, the ‘War on Terror’, ‘9/11’, popular culture, and intervention.
A) Theorising Foreign Policy: Cultural Embeddedness and Political Possibility
My research attempts two analytical moves, conceptualising foreign policy as culturally embedded discourse and theorising the relationship between foreign policy and political possibility.
Outputs and findings:
- In ‘Foreign Policy and Political Possibility’, published in the European Journal of International Relations, I argue that the political possibility of foreign policy is contingent upon its construction in thinkable, resonant and ultimately dominant terms. This article revisits, and weaves together, the work of Roxanne Doty, Michael Barnett and Ronald Krebs.
- In my monograph, Selling the War on Terror, published by Routledge, I argue that foreign policy can be conceptualised as culturally embedded discourse. Analysing foreign policy as discourse enables two important things. First, it enables foreign policy to be denaturalised and contested. And second, it enables heterogeneity to be revealed within a coalition. Recognising that foreign policy is also culturally embedded enables these differences to be understood relative to distinct domestic contexts.
- Increasingly, I am drawing these two strands together to explore the relationship of political (im)possibility to the cultural (dis)embeddedness of foreign policy discourse.
B) American, British and Australian Foreign Policy during and beyond the ‘War on Terror’.
Understanding the ‘War on Terror’ and the Coalitions of the Willing has been at the heart of my research since completing my doctorate. I argue that the heterogeneity in coalitions is frequently and incorrectly overlooked. This is important, for example, because distinct and divergent foreign policy discourse helped to make the ‘War on Terror’ possible in different contexts.
Outputs and Findings:
- On the UK: In ‘Blair’s War on Terror’, published in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, I argue that narratives of rationality, leadership and international community were central to selling the British case for intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. And in ‘Before the vote’, published in Review of International Studies, Jason Ralph, Kalina Zhekova and I trace evolving British foreign policy discourse in Syria between 2011 and 2013.
- On Australia: In ‘Howard’s War on Terror’, published in the Australian Journal of Political Science, I argue that narratives of mateship, sacrifice and shared values were central to selling the Australian case for intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq.
- On the US: In two edited volumes – Obama’s Foreign Policy; Ending the War on Terror and The Obama Doctrine: A legacy of Continuity? – edited with Michelle Bentley, and published by Routledge, we explore American foreign policy, from Bush to Obama, through a range of competing theoretical approaches.
C) The Events of September 11th, 2001, and the Construction of ‘9/11’
My research into the events of September 11th and ‘9/11’ has attempted three things. First, to better understand the experience of the events for ordinary Americans. Second, to understand and contest dominant framings of ‘9/11’ by politicians and practitioners. And third, to understand the continued resonance of dominant framings through their relationship to the lived experience of the day.
Outputs and findings:
- In ‘From September 11th, 2001, to 9/11: From Void to Crisis’, published in International Political Sociology, I retrace the experience of events for ordinary Americans. I argue that an immediate sense of shock and rupture must be understood against a unique American context and that this experience was incorporated within the subsequent framings of the Bush Administration.
- In ‘”Experiencing, Constructing and Remembering 9/11″‘, published in Critical Studies on Terrorism, Lee Jarvis and I explore the issue of time and 9/11, analysing the continued resonance and dominance of official framings of 9/11. We attempt to connect the experience, construction and memory of 9/11, considering the political implications of an enduring official framing.
- In a recent article, with Ty Solomon, ‘Affect is what states make of it’, I explore the role of affect and emotion in the experience and construction of 9/11. I argue that, in moments of crisis and trauma, the state retains an important ability to articulate affect as emotion through foreign policy discourse.
D) Popular Culture and the Construction of Politics, Terrorism and Intervention
Having started my research on the ‘War on Terror’ by focusing on the language of elected representatives and the experiences of ordinary Americans, I have more recently turned to consider the role of the media and popular culture. I have commenced this area of research by focusing on the role of television’s The West Wing in the construction of politics, terrorism and intervention.
Outputs and findings:
- In ‘Teaching Americans 9/11’, published in Millennium Journal of International Studies, I argue that The West Wing actively taught Americans how to think about September 11th, the nature of the terrorist threat and the appropriate foreign policy response. In all of these areas, the television show reinforced the message of the Bush Administration, further narrowing the space for debate.
- My most recent book, Fictional Television and American Politics: From 9/11 to Donald Trump (Manchester UP, 2019) analyses a range of great 21st century TV shows, theorising the relationship between politics and television in an era dominated by a reality-TV president.
- In ‘Video Use in International Relations’, published in Politics, I analyse the ability of students to develop (critical evaluative) visual literacy skills through exposure to and discussion of film and fictional television, such as the West Wing. I have followed this up with a second article on fictional TV and critical pedagogy in International Studies Perspectives.
E) Theorising intervention(ism) and the language of war and peace
My work attempting to theorise intervention(ism) adopts a critical approach. These efforts build on research conducted in the Centre for international intervention (Cii), directed by Professor Sir Michael Aaronson at the University of Surrey, and will lead to two new research projects, in the IR Group at Leeds, exploring: foreign policy traditions in the United States and Australia; and framings of the Arab Spring.
- In ‘Dominance through Coercion: Strategic Rhetorical Balancing in Afghanistan and Libya’, published in Intervention and Statebuilding, Sir Mike Aaronson and I argue that political elites have strategically emphasised secondary justifications for intervention in order to win a war of position at home and achieve policy dominance. A follow up article will shortly be published in the same journal.
- In ‘Obama as Modern Jeffersonian’ I attempt to situate Obama’s foreign policy within one of the great traditions of American foreign policy. This chapter will be published in my new edited book, The Obama Doctrine.
- In my forthcoming book, Selling War and Peace: Syria and the Anglosphere (Cambridge UP, 2020) I explore British, American and Australian framings of the crisis and civil war in Syria. The book analyses how arguments for war and peace clash and resolve, enabling intervention or non-intervention.
Many of the works discussed above are linked and/or available on my Publications page.