Name: Professor Theo Farrell
Research institution: Department of War Studies, King’s College London
Research career length: 22 years
Research Council: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) andArts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Location: London, England
Brief summary of research: Contemporary armed conflict, especially the war in Afghanistan. Also protection of civilians in armed conflict.
Leaving Cert, St. Benildus College, Dublin
BA History and Politics, University College Dublin
MA in International History, University College Dublin
PhD in Politics at Bristol
Permanent lectureship in International Relations at University of Exeter
Reader, then Professor, at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London
Theo Farrell researches innovation within military organisations, including the UK military in Southern Afghanistan. As a world authority in his discipline, he is often called upon to advise the military and government.
Like most organisations, militaries are designed ‘not to change’, and create standard operating procedures to make sure that important tasks are performed correctly. Yet at the same time, it is vital that they do innovate - developing new ideas and procedures. My research shows when, why and how they do so, with a current focus on the UK military at war in Afghanistan. In the course of my research, I have visited the country four times and interviewed hundreds of officers and officials. I have also reviewed post-operation reports, intelligence reports, and operational plans. My research shows that the UK military has innovated in a number of ways in the conduct of its counter-insurgency campaign in Helmand Province since 2006. These tactical improvements have resulted in significant operational progress in the British campaign.
I see my work as trying to make sense of our complex world, especially the bit that interests me - militaries and armed conflicts. As people, we are constantly simplifying our world in the stories we tell one another. Academics do it through theories they dream up. Organisations, officers and officials do it in the reports they write and the plans they make. I love stitching together these simplified ‘stories’ into the complex picture. If you believe, as I do, that the UK military is generally a ‘force for good’ in the world, then you will understand why I value my research.
In some disciplines, such as physics, chemistry and biology, research is mostly collaborative. The experiments require teams of researchers, each conducting their bit of research, to produce the overall result. In Politics and International Relations, research is more commonly undertaken by a single individual. And it can be a darn lonely business. What drives you is a passion for your subject - indeed, ‘obsession’ might be a better word! Often, also, your research involves a puzzle of some kind, and you just want to find out the answer.
I was determined to leave Ireland for my PhD because I was interested in security studies, which then was barely studied in Ireland. I did a PhD in Politics at Bristol, on Weapons Acquisition in the United States. Following a one-year post at Bristol, I was offered a permanent lectureship in International Relations at the University of Exeter. In 2005, I was appointed to a readership in the Department of War Studies at King's College London. One year later, I was promoted to Professor . This is the leading department in the world for the multidisciplinary study of conflict and security. So this appointment was a dream come true.
In 2009, I was awarded a three-year research Fellowship , during which I was seconded to the UK Foreign Office to carry out an independent review of the UK led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Southern Afghanistan. I have recently been asked by the British Army to write the classified history of the Afghan campaign.
I am now at the top of my profession and my ambitions centre on future lines of research, in collaboration with colleagues, and also in supporting more junior colleagues in my institution and profession to help them as best I can to make progress in their research and their careers.