Professor Ben O'Loughlin

Educational background

BA University of Northumbria

MA University of Warwick

DPhil University of Oxford

Personal profile

Twitter: @Ben_OLoughlin

Ben O'Loughlin is Professor of International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is Director of the New Political Communication Unit, which was launched in 2007. Before joining Royal Holloway in September 2006 he was a researcher on the ESRC New Security Challenges Programme. He completed a DPhil in Politics at New College, Oxford in October 2005 under the supervision of the political theorist Elizabeth Frazer and journalist Godfrey Hodgson.

Ben's expertise is in the field of international political communication. He was Specialist Adviser to the UK House of Lords Select Committee on Soft Power and UK Influence, producing the report Power and Persuasion in the Modern World (2014). The report drew extensively on O'Loughlin's work on strategic narrative and has impacted how policymakers communicate Britain's role in the world.

The concept 'strategic narrative' has been developed by Ben with colleagues Alister Miskimmon (Queen's University Belfast), Andreas Antoniades (University of Sussex) and Laura Roselle at Elon University. Strategic narratives refer to how political actors tell stories about the past, present and future of international affairs in order to influence the behaviour of states and non-state actors. Ben and colleagues' book Strategic Narratives: Communication Power and the New World Order was published by Routledge in New York in November 2013 and won Best Book Award for International Communication at the 2016 International Studies Association convention. Together with Miskimmon and Roselle, in 2017 Ben published an edited volume of strategic narrative studies Forging the World: Strategic Narratives and International Relations with University of Michigan Press. From 2015-18 he is funded by the Jean Monnet and the British Council to research the impact of culture and narratives on conflicts in Ukraine, Egypt and Israel-Palestine. 

Through a number of projects, books and articles he has explored how politics and security are changing in the new media ecology. This work is drawn together in the book War and Media: The Emergence of Diffused War (Cambridge: Polity, 2010), co-authored with Andrew Hoskins. He has published articles in Political Studies, Review of International Studies, International Affairs, Journal of Communication, International Journal of Press/Politics, New Media & Society, and many other peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Ben is Co-Editor of the Sage journal Media, War & Conflict. The journal was launched in 2008. It is a major international, peer-reviewed journal that maps the shifting arena of war, conflict and terrorism in an intensively and extensively mediated age. In 2013 Ben hosted the journal's Fifth Anniversary Conference at Royal Holloway and in May 2018 the journal celebrated its Tenth Anniversary Conference in Florence, Italy.

He has carried out projects on media and radicalisation for the Economic and Social Research Council and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure. This led to the book Radicalisation and Media: Terrorism and Connectivity in the New Media Ecology (London: Routledge, 2011) co-authored with Akil N. Awan and Andrew Hoskins.

Ben has been a leader in creating debate about the politics of social media monitoring. In 2016 his study of dual-screening during televised leaders debates - how audiences interact on social media while watching a debate on TV - won the Best Article of the Year Award at APSA, the American Political Science Association (co-authored with Andrew Chadwick and Cristian Vaccari). In 2016 he conducted research with Marie Gillespie for the British Council evaluating how global audiences engage with the #ShakespeareLives campaign to mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth. Previously, he and Gillespie completing a project with the BBC examining how the broadcaster used social media to engage global audiences during the London 2012 Summer Olympics, and published a set of papers comparing how audiences engaged with BBC and Russia Today across the 2012 Summer Olympics and 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In 2010 he completed a project for the UK Technology Strategy Board exploring how Twitter data can reveal emerging crises, infrastructure problems, and shifts in public opinion. He has conducted research exploring how online public opinion can be tracked -- what he calls, with Nick Anstead, Semantic Polling. Based on their findings, the Council of Europe organised a debate on the ethics and regulation of Semantic Polling at the World Forum for Democracy in November 2013. 

Ben has presented research to the No. 10 Policy Unit, Home Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, OFCOM, the European Commission in Brussels, EU Delegation in the US, the Brookings Institute, the US State Department, NATO, and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), as well as expert groups like the Global Futures Forum. He has contributed to the New York Times, Guardian, Washington Post Monkey Cage blog, OpenDemocracy, Sky News and Newsweek. He is a columnist for Global Policy and blogs for the New Political Communication Unit. He has held Visiting Fellowships and Professorships at Nanyang Technological University, the University of Sydney, the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Bologna, and at University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

Research interests

Ben conducts research on power and influence in international relations. His focus is on the role of communication and technology as the conditions through which power and influence operate in the 21st century. Ben advises policymakers, media organisations, and NGOs on how to act strategically in this environment.

Ben is a leader in the academic study of international political communication. He was co-investigator of the ESRC-funded project, Legitimising the Discourses of Radicalisation: Political Violence in the New Media Ecology. Before that he was a researcher on the ESRC project Shifting Securities: News Cultures Before and Beyond the Iraq War, part of the New Security Programme. Both projects were awarded the highest possible grade, Outstanding, by the ESRC’s reviewers.

His current research addresses two questions.

  • In international affairs, how do states use strategic narratives to project their interests and identities to shape the behaviour of other actors? This informs current Ben's book projects on the 2015 Iran Deal and the future of EU-China relations.
  • In domestic politics and society, how are digital technologies creating “the new mass” society, the return of a dense social mainstream in which people's group and personal identifications shape their behaviour? This informs Ben's ongoing series of studies of social media and politics with Nick Anstead, Andrew Chadwick and Cristian Vaccari, his work on cultural relations and intercultural engagement with Marie Gillespie, and his work on social theory and digital society with Andrew Hoskins.

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