Counterinsurgency, the violent suppression of armed insurrection, is among the dominant kinds of war in contemporary world politics. Often linked to protecting populations and reconstructing legitimate political orders, it has appeared in other times and places in very different forms – and has taken on a range of politics in doing so. How did it arrive at its present form, and what generated these others, along the way?

Spanning several centuries and four detailed case studies, The Counterinsurgent Imagination unpacks and explores this intellectual history through counterinsurgency manuals. These military theoretical and instructional texts, and the practitioners who produced them, made counterinsurgency possible in practice. By interrogating these processes, this book explains how counter-insurrectionary war eventually took on its late twentieth and early twenty-first century forms. It shows how and why counterinsurgent ideas persist, despite recurring failures.

Joseph MacKay is a Fellow (Senior Lecturer) in the Department of International Relations, Australian National University. He holds a PhD from the University of Toronto. He works on historical international hierarchies, international security, and the history of international thought. His research has appeared in the Review of International Studies, International Studies Quarterly, International Theory, the Journal of Global Security Studies, and Social Science History. His 2022 book, The  Counterinsurgent Imagination: A New Intellectual History, is published with Cambridge University Press.

Moderator: Halvard Leira

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