My research interests revolve around questions of state-society relations, state transformation, governance, political
economy, sovereignty and intervention. I have written extensively on Southeast Asia, China and the Asia-Pacific more
generally. However, I always approach these countries as case studies of much broader international phenomena, and
I have also worked on parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, applying the same analytical framework.
Working in the tradition of critical, historical-sociological approaches in International Relations, my work draws out the
importance of domestic and transnational social conflict and political economy for international politics. From an
‘outside-in’, perspective, I examine how conflict between social classes and other groups generates different forms of
state, regime, and foreign policy, including different forms of intervention and international governance arrangements.
From an ‘inside-out’ perspective, I explore how external interventions - such as sanctions, state-building interventions
and other attempts to transform domestic governance - are mediated through social conflicts and change political
outcomes in target states.
My work has been particularly influenced by the critical political economy approach pioneered at the Asia Research
Centre at Murdoch University in Australia, the state theory of Bob Jessop and Nicos Poulantzas, and critical political
geography, particularly its emphasis on scale and rescaling socio-political conflicts and state apparatuses.
My first book, ASEAN, Sovereignty and Intervention in Southeast Asia, investigated the interventions of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cambodia, East Timor and Burma from the 1960s onwards.
Attacking the overwhelming scholarly and journalistic consensus on ASEAN as a group of states that never interferes
in any other states' internal affairs, I argue that ASEAN has indeed intervened, both within ASEAN and without, often
very seriously and with sometimes devastating consequences.
My second book, Governing Borderless Threats, co-authored with my long-term collaborator Prof Shahar Hameiri,
investigates how non-traditional security issues are governed. Drawing on state theory, political economy and political
geography, it builds a new analytical framework - the State Transformation Approach - that draws attention to efforts to
transform domestic state apparatuses managing particular security issues, networking them across state borders and
encouraging them to impose international discipline on other parts of their state and society. This state transformation
process is, we show, profoundly shaped by social conflict rooted in the political economy of specific issue areas. We
present case studies of environmental degradation, pandemic disease and transnational crime in the Asia-Pacific.
Many scholarly articles also arose from this Australian Research Council-funded project.
My third book, Societies Under Siege: Exploring How International Economic Sanctions (Do Not) Work, does exactly
what the title suggests. Moving past the debate on whether sanctions work, it explores how they work, or fail to work.
Via a new framework, Social Conflict Analysis, it suggests that sanctions condition the power, resources and strategies
of societal groups in target states, thereby conditioning processes of socio-political conflict and the transformation (or
otherwise) of states and regimes. Tracing this societal “transmission belt” helps reveal the reasons why most sanctions
regimes fail. Case studies include South Africa, Iraq and Myanmar. This research was funded by the UK’s Economic
and Social Research Council. For more details click here.
My fourth book, Fractured China: How State Transformation is Shaping China’s Rise, co-authored with Shahar
Hameiri, explores how the state transformation processes identified in Governing Borderless Threats - the
fragmentation, decentralisation and internationalisation of state apparatuses - are conditioning China’s rise. Against
mainstream IR approaches that depict China as a classically “Westphalian” state pursuing a coherent “grand strategy”,
we investigated how state transformation is generating fragmented, incoherent and sometimes contradictory policy
outputs, with serious consequences for China’s foreign and security policies and their effects overseas. This project
was funded by the Australian Research Council.
My other work has show how social conflict and political economy relations condition various outcomes in domestic
and international politics, including: the making of foreign and security policy in Southeast Asia; state-building
interventions in East Timor; the failure of the ASEAN Economic Community; and the evolution of Myanmar’s economy
My current research focuses on how China’s Belt and Road Initiative is being implemented in many different countries
across the world. I have assembled a large international research team to provide the first truly global account of the
BRI, using a common analytical framework, and we are now seeking funding to support this major research initiative.
For a flavour of what this work involves, see my Chatham House report from 2020, Debunking the Myth of Debt-Trap
Total of £880,708 in external research income since 2009, including:
£101,743 from the British Academy for an Innovation Fellowship at the Foreign, Commonwealth and
Development Office (March 2022)
€195,454 (c.£171,570) from the European Commission for a Marie Curie Skłodowska Fellowship on the
Security-Religion-Nationalism Nexus in Southeast Asia, with Dr Michael Magcamit
AU$284,000 (c.£177,740) from the Australian Research Council for a project on Rising Powers and State
Transformation, with Dr Shahar Hameiri (January 2017)
£70,500 from the British Academy Newton Fund for a project on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, with Dr Cheng-
Chwee Kuik (February 2016)
US$26,000 (c.£17,600) from the National University of Singapore/ Stanford University for the Lee Kong Chian
Distinguished Fellowship on Southeast Asia (Spring 2015)
£127,557 from the ESRC for a project on international economic sanctions (12/2010)
AU$305,000 (c.£192,000; with Shahar Hameiri) from the Australian Research Council for The Governance of
Non-Traditional Security in Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific (11/2010)
I would be delighted to supervise doctoral theses in the following areas:
the international politics of Southeast Asia, China and the Asia-Pacific
the politics of sovereignty and intervention
international economic sanctions
historical sociology/ historical materialism/ political economy/ state-society relations and international relations
global or regional governance
Please note I am not qualified to supervise theses that deal predominantly with South Asia. Otherwise, I am happy to
discuss ideas with prospective students - please email me with a short (2,000 word) research proposal and your CV.
However, for procedural information on how to apply for doctoral studies at Queen Mary, please see the School’s