AOD’s Member of the Week:
Dr Mark Lacy teaches security studies and international relations at Lancaster University. His work explores the work of the French intellectual Paul Virilio’s on questions of war, technology, cinema and global accidents. More broadly, he is interested in the new strategic and tactical trends transforming war in the coming decades, focusing in particular on debates about ‘the gray zone,’ ‘sub-threshold threats’ and ‘ambiguous war’ and the role of new technologies in disrupting and transforming traditional drivers of international conflict.
He is also interested in the various creative tools and techniques that governments and militaries use to prepare for ‘black swan’ events and strategic surprises – such as the use of science fiction by armies in the UK and USA through to the emergence of the ‘military design.’ He is lead editor of Routledge Studies in Conflict, Security and Technology
Member of the Week:
Please introduce, and tell us about yourself
I am a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lancaster and have been an Associate Director of our Security Institute where we have tried to generate cross faculty collaboration between faculties. I am also the lead editor of the Routledge series on Conflict, Security and Technology – I am keen to publish new research on military design in the series and next year we will be publishing Dr Aaron Jackson’s new book on military design: I am keen to publish other books by researchers not necessarily based in the academic world. I was one of the first academics in IR/Security Studies to start thinking about design and security in an essay in Security Dialogue and in The Handbook of Critical Security Studies. Next year I will be publishing what I think is the first chapter on design, security and war in a textbook for undergraduates on critical security studies.
The Archipelago of Design is a metaphor used to describe a collection of islands as a part of a larger community, celebrating our differences, learning from one another and representing our connection in forming a greater network where we share ideas.
If you could picture your own Archipelago island, what would be unique to it?
Well I guess my Island might be less orderly and secure than the other islands! Obviously I am an academic and will probably ask questions that emerge from the fact that I have a certain amount of institutional freedom – but I might ask questions that stem from a sense of ‘naivety’ about the ‘real world’ of security and the military. So I might ask different questions from the ones others in the group would ask. Its interesting when these different worlds collide – the military/policy worlds and the university world – but I think I have got better at moving between these ‘islands.’ I have hopefully learnt how to not alienate or offend the inhabitants of the other islands too frequently– but I think there are moments when miscommunication between islands is inevitable. But I think the experience of supervising three PHD students from the military world has given me improved ‘social skills’ in dealing with people outside the often insular academic island.
What advice would you give to a younger person hearing or learning about design for the first time and where to start?
I think I became interested in design through Paul Virilio’s book Bunker Archaelogy. Paul Virilio was a French intellectual who grew up in Brittany during the Second World War and he became fascinated with the bunkers on the coast. He returned to photograph them as an adult and wrote an essay that explores the significance of the bunkers during the war – but the book opened up broader questions about modernist architecture, the rebuilding of cities after the war and Cold War geopolitics. Like all his work, it can feel rather strange and unusual – but he opens up interesting lines of thought about how the world is changing, how technology is transforming society and war. But a more accessible book is Richard Sennett’s Flesh and Stone – a rich and fascinating history of how architecture has played an important role in political power.
What’s your elevator pitch for how you would describe your model of design?
I think my work in the university and institute is about bringing different people together – groups and individuals that might not generally meet and discuss issues; I think this is really needed when we explore emerging technological challenges in areas such as cyber or AI. And to search for the problems and issues that are possibly being ignored – or to generate new ways of thinking about older problems. For example, I am currently supervising a PHD project funded by the ESRC on how the role of military chaplains is evolving in a time of technological change – both in terms of how the chaplains work but also in terms of the changing problems of being in the forces in the 21st century.
What are some key differences in your experience in design, compared to other practitioners?
Hopefully, it is the breadth of different groups and individuals I have collaborated with – from designers such as Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby through to the military design community. In 2008 myself and Cynthia Weber were involved in developing a year called New Sciences of Protection in the Institute for Advanced Studies at Lancaster that brough designers and social scientists together to explore a range of security issues. It became very much about how design can explore different futures – or how design can be used to create debate about different futures.
How has design been utilized in the modern day in both professional and personal contexts?
Something I have thought about many times as a parent of young kids (especially in lockdown!) is did Steve Jobs realise the various ways an iPad would transform various aspects of how many of us live – from how we teach our kids, how we watch movies, how our living space in the home might be changed. And then the question of how an iPad will transform how we live and work in coming decades. Or the question of radical new technologies beyond what we can currently imagine, beyond the iPad – and how the emergence of these new technologies will transform security and war.
What excites you about the future, and what do you look forward to in any upcoming projects?
I am currently finishing a book titled Theorising the Future of Conflict: War out to 2049. The book tries to think through the trends that will shape the future of war in the coming decades, out to 2049 – the book often returns to questions posed in the Blade Runner films but 2049 is also the year that China aims to match the U.S. in military power and capability. Then I want to develop a project on the changing nature of deception in war and international politics – Strategies of Deception in the Digital Age. But alongside this I want to write a book on Science fiction and war – how science fiction books and films have been used to think about future wars.
What is design thinking to you, and what do you think are some common misconceptions?
I guess maybe the misconception is that design is about aesthetics or about how to design improved functions or efficiency. The work of designers such as Antony Dunne and Fiona Raby – in books such as Design Noir and Speculative Everything shows how there are traditions of design that create possibilities that enable us explore how darker questions about technology and ‘the future.’
Can you share an example of adversity in your professional, academic, or personal life?
Well I think my experience of university life has been shaped by various departmental conflicts that have been rather unpleasant and divisive – which are a fairly common part of university life – in a context where there are various bureaucratic pressures in higher education. But I think I have stuck to what interests me – even if it might appear unusual to colleagues. For example, the interest in design is still, I think, viewed as rather ‘eccentric’ or ‘leftfield.’ I don’t think people ‘get’ that this is something people in the military or policy world are interested in. It feels ‘alien’ – but I think the fact that I still enjoy this job comes from this sense of doing things that are unusual and are pushing the boundaries of what academia is or can be. For example, being involved in Project Albatross – creative and exciting projects like this make the problems of the job (the bureaucracy, the exam marking, etc.) worthwhile.
What would you consider your biggest accomplishment?
My teaching. I like the idea of teaching a course that will grow and change over the course of a career but is rooted in a particular set of concerns – which for me is really how violence and conflict changes in modernity and where it is heading in the coming decades. My course begins with Zygmunt Bauman’s book Modernity and the Holocaust – my PHD was on Bauman’s work and I think I will teach the book until I retire…it sets up some of the most important issues about violence and modern society that provides an important foundations for all the emerging debates, technologies and trends about robotics, drones, cyber, AI and so on. And I think it is important for students to encounter these dark moments in our not so distant history.
What has the COVID-19 Pandemic taught you?
I think it has been the best of times and the worst of times. The best of times in terms of spending time with family, safe at home and able to still work and be creative. While I want to get back to campus, I think the experience has opened up possibilities that were in front of us but we didn’t explore. Why not have a seminar series with speakers from around the world instead of just the UK? One morning I had to talk to one of our other members about something and he was walking his dog in Florida and I was in my home office in Lancaster. We could have done this before but Covid prompted us to do things we could have done before but possibly felt strange. I have been involved in a funded project on Covid 19 and social media in Dhaka in Bangladesh between the UK, USA and Bangladesh. So the age of lockdown has been a creative time.
But at the same time, it has been the worst of times in terms of managing the moments when schools were closed but we were working – and trying to manage home schooling and work and there not really being any escape or downtime from it. And the sense of being robbed of important time with parents and grandparents. And just the experience of people we know dying around the world but in a way that doesn’t allow for the various rituals through which we deal with death. I don’t think we fully grasp the many long-term consequences of this time – a time that is not over – for people’s mental health, for the economy, for the workplace, for international politics.
For more information on Mark Lacy, visit https://aodnetwork.ca/author/marklacy