Dr. Tom Cawkwell

Discipline: Sociology and Philosophy

Project Summary

UK Strategy in Afghanistan, 2001-2014: Narratives, Transnational Dilemmas and Strategic Communication

My PhD project was conceived as a study of UK state communications regarding Afghanistan from the start of the conflict in 2001 to the drawdown of British forces at the end of 2014. I have always been fascinated by how states frame conflicts in an era of (pardon the cliché) complexity and uncertainty, and one pervaded by indirectness of threats and collective security arrangements. I also have a strong interest in strategic theory and the apparent 'return of strategy' to the centre of British defence policy and public discourse. These two areas provided the crux of my work, which in essence was an investigation of how and why the 'narrative(s)' utilised by the UK state explaining the purpose of Afghanistan have altered over time, from one of a liberal institutionalist, universalist message of democratisation and the centrality of global security, to one of a rather narrow, realist message of counter-terrorism and British national security. The realisation that the message had changed substantially over this period of time led me to investigate the institutional and conceptual history of 'strategic communication' in the UK, which in turn led me to analyse the degree to which 'narratives' affect or even inform grand strategy. As a discourse analysis, my research was empirically driven via the creation of a comprehensive dataset of state communications and informed by the 'cultural pragmatics' work of Jeffrey Alexander and Philip Smith.

Supervisory Team

Professor Anthony King

Professor Brian Rappert

Wider Research Interests

My PhD research has opened up opportunities for corollary studies in both the dynamics of political discourses of mid-level states involved in statebuilding and 'long wars' as well as critiques of the relevance of concepts of 'national interest' to British grand strategy in an era of collective security and 'transnationalised' defence policy. I am currently working on publications derived from my PhD dissertation that will further explore these areas.