PhD

What it means to be a veteran-researcher

 Hannah West and Sophy Gardner

This post picks up from the debate captured by Ben Schrader, Daphne Inbar and Aviad Levy following their panel discussion at EISA 2018 on military veterans in International Relations and Critical Military Studies and discussed on this blog post.  

 The Defence Research Network held a workshop in Bristol on 6 October 2018 to bring together veterans to explore what it means to traverse the military-academic divide. We considered questions including, whether veterans’ military experience and identity shape their research agendas, methods and interpretative frameworks; what unique opportunities and challenges veteran researchers whilst conducting research on defence; and what it means to be reflexive about their positionality within their research. The workshop was funded by Volkswagen Foundation as part of the Military Afterlives project. 

Hannah shares her reflections:

‘Entering a room full of veteran-researchers is at once comforting – to find others who are going through the same transition from the military to academia – but at the same time there is an unspoken dynamic going on that I found fascinating. It happens in everyday life of course, we make judgements, some conscious, some unconscious, when we meet and interact with others, but with veterans it feels there are a set of questions framing how we understand each other. And as I stood next to my civilian supervisor, Sarah Bulmer, who was chairing the workshop, I was struck with how the subtleties of this interaction might appear or be invisible to an outsider. How long had they served for? Did they serve as an officer or NCO? Were they a regular or reservist? What was their regiment/trade/branch? Did they deploy? And these questions are not necessarily answered in a brief resume on meeting but in the subtle and silent assessment of how someone dresses and presents themselves, and also what they share about their military career. So, whilst I can’t speak for the other participants this was definitely somewhere in my mind when I met this group. I also noticed that Sarah was left out of these discussions, and it was strange to see my supervisor needing my guidance to interact with this group.  And this was just the opening of the workshop. But it got me ready to talk about what the ‘shared experiences’ of being a veteran are.’

It was a fascinating and useful day connecting with fellow veteran (and in fact serving and reservist) researchers, hearing about their research and identifying common experiences. The points below capture some of the observations emerging from our discussions:

  • Experiential knowledge. We talked about what our military experience brought to our research, and what this allowed us to see, say and understand when compared to a civilian researcher. We recognised how we bring a particular understanding both to the interpretation of texts and in interactions with military research subjects and institutions but we were challenged to think about our blindspots too. We acknowledged the importance of the veteran experience to academia but shared our nervousness sometimes in sharing personal experiences and overcoming traditional cultural stereotypes about what it is to be a veteran, especially with colleagues critical of military power and militarisation.
  • Pride and criticism. Reflecting on their military service, participants had varied responses to their own past roles but we agreed there was potentially a tension between pride in our service and being critical of the military. We explored the idea of critical practice and needing time to reflect on our service to be able to understand what we had normalized or been desensitized to through serving. This linked to the idea of becoming more politically active following military service, catalyzed by reflections on our military experiences. However, another perspective reconciled critique and pride because through critiquing the military we support it to reform and improve.
  • Intersections of organizational culture. Military culture and language is second nature to us but we discussed that academia has its own culture and language too and that our challenge is negotiating the intersections of these two cultures. Perhaps the challenge for the veteran researcher is navigating the journey between the two and being able to accommodate and draw on these two cultures in different contexts.
  • Societal understanding. This debate also led us to reflect on being part of a diminishing band of veterans with fewer families knowing someone with military service and how this impacts on how we are understood in society, and, in particular, by our civilian academic colleagues. We remembered how there had been a time when most scholars had done military service.
  • Instrumental advantage. We did not dwell on, but did acknowledge, the instrumental advantage of military service in military research in terms of access and credibility but were challenged to think about the methodological implications of our blindspots, for example what we might assume because of our familiarity with military norms.
  • Blurred lines. For some, the line between the military and academia is not distinct – they perhaps started doing research, in some form, whilst still serving or in fact are still reservists or regulars now, only adding to the blurry nature of this transition for some people. We considered whether the distinction between the two spheres was as distinct as it seemed.

 

drn veterans

(A veteran of the Falklands Conflict wears his medals with pride at a memorial service for the 30th anniversary of the conflict. Photograph courtesy of http://www.defenceimagery.mod.uk/fotoweb/

We are intending to hold a follow on workshop in Autumn 2019 on the subject of ‘The voice of the veteran as researcher’ to present papers for discussion and build towards publication. Our aim would be to bring together veterans who are also researchers and would be interested in contributing to this debate.

At this time when the notion of the expert is under fire in the popular press, what is the value of military experience in scholarship? We have seen the emergence of soldier-scholars and social media has amplified military attempts to engage with critical thinking e.g. Wavell room, BRAIN and Dragon portal. With this increased visibility, there is now an opportunity to encourage a more diverse commentary on defence and specifically reflect on the contribution of the ex-military-scholar.

We would be interested to hear from any veteran-researchers who would like to engage with the following themes:

  • What is the value of war experience as the basis of scholarship?
  • What do veterans’ voices add to critical commentary on war and the military that other voices might miss?
  • How does the scholarship of veterans differ methodologically?
  • How does engaging with academia affect veteran’s reflections on the military and their service?
  • What are the cultural barriers to veterans participating in the academic community?
  • What are the blindspots for veterans researching the military/defence?
  • How do veterans engage with politics and critical practice following their transition from service?

A call for papers will follow. In the meantime, expressions of interest would be welcome to defenceresearchnetwork@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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From military engineer to researcher

DRN Chairwoman, Hannah West, is presenting at the National Army Museum on the 14th October 2017. She is reflecting on her transition from serving in the military to researching women in the military. Here is an abstract for the paper she will be presenting…

Women have participated as counterinsurgents from the women’s outreach programmes of the Malaya campaign and special duties in Northern Ireland to Female Engagement Teams in Afghanistan and Gender Advisors on contemporary operations. My research is about examining (marginalised) moments in these campaigns to understand how women as counterinsurgents have been constructed in military and development discourses, formally and informally. As a former military engineer, I deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 where as a stabilisation planner, I also coordinated British ‘female engagement’ efforts. With my scientific background, on taking on a PhD, I initially approached my study determined to be impartial and maintain a critical distance. This paper explores how I have made the transition from military engineer to researcher and have come to embrace my unique reflexive position. I will chart my changing researcher identity by revealing my relationship with feminist and critical stances and the challenge of finding a disciplinary home. I will discuss my changing attitudes towards the literature critiquing the policy of ‘female engagement’, how I have reflected on and become comfortable critiquing the ‘female engagement’ work I had been involved with. As a female ex-military researcher interviewing male and female military personnel about a gendered topic, I will expose the challenges of gender and rank dynamics in interviews and expand on how I have come to feel comfortable challenging my participants, through the idea of research as political intervention. Finally, I will talk about the realization that I have become desensitized to the institutional culture of the military, particularly when revisiting my memories of sexist practices during interviews and how this has affected their analysis. This paper will endeavour to share the fulfilling experience of bringing my lived experience in the military into the planning, fieldwork, analysis and writing of my research.

Hannah is approaching the second year of her PhD at Bath University. For more information on her research, please follow her on twitter @hannah_r_west

The Defence Ecosystem

DRN’s Richard Fisher will present on “The Defence Ecosystem” at the Defence and Security Equipment International event on the 12th September in the Global Theatre.

Here is a short synopsis of his presentation piece:

This presentation provides those working, or seeking to work, in the area of defence, a brief guide on the networks and relationships of the entire ecosystem and how they operate as part of the £30billion turnover across the defence and security industries. There is a specific emphasis on new entrants or new ideas and how these can be developed and implemented through a range of routes. It aims to address the routes for development, funding opportunities and engagement arrangements. It should be possible for the audience to identify how they can become involved and deal with the challenges they may be facing.

The defence industry forms part of a much wider ecosystem that includes many organisations who don’t consider they are part of it but are vital to its operation. Considering any industry as an ecosystem begins to imply how simple changes in one area can permeate throughout and there is often reliance upon an area that may not be known about.

The research behind this presentation has been commissioned by the Defence Solutions Centre as part of their ongoing work with Cranfield University.

Richard Fisher is a first year PhD student and second year research fellow  at Cranfield at the Centre for Defence Acquisition. For his PhD, Fisher investigates the networks and relationships of the defence industry. For more details, please contact Richard through his twitter account @vickersmg

 

Remote-Limited Warfare and the American National Style

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The United States is engaged in a period of military change to suit the developments of the 21st century. Despite this transformation, the 2016 presidential election result and the discourse during the race for the White House revealed a number of interpretations about the legacy of the Obama administration in relation to American military power. As the 44th president prepared to leave office and as his legacy was being constructed by observers, Obama has been painted as weak. His tenure is illustrated as one that facilitated a period of American military decline.

However, the Obama administration oversaw a renewed programme of military transformation, returning this to the core of US defense strategy. My thesis examines why this interpretation of Barack Obama persists. Focusing on “remote-limited warfare” as a product of military transformation, the research analyses its sources and strategic effectiveness in order to assess its compatibility with American national style.

Drawing upon strategic theory, an analysis of the existing strategic environment, and socio-cultural interpretations of the United States “way” in warfare, this interdisciplinary study reveals tensions between remote-limited warfare and American national style.

This research extends an evolving body of scholarship on the strategic effectiveness of so-called “drone-warfare”, and contextualises this as part of a continued process of military transformation. In doing so, this work updates literature on the American way of war, American strategic culture, as well as military transformation. The research also reassesses the legacy of Barack Obama and the role of the Obama doctrine in producing a period of military transformation.

Gareth Hopkins is a forth year PhD candidate at Swansea University. He is currently writing up and looking to submit his thesis in December. The next stage of his research includes identifying practical conclusions that can inform American military innovation. For more information, follow Gareth on twitter @L_Hopkins1.

 

 

 

 

The battle for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the women of Malaya

 

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[Knitting demonstration by Mrs J.N.M Lewis (President and Organiser of Kinta Territories Association WI) 1955. Image courtesy of National Archives (Catalogue reference INF 10/200/3)]

In the post-Afghanistan era, as the British Army adjusts to a new political landscape and moves to integrate the ‘gender perspectives’ rhetoric of the UN, insurgencies remain a global threat and the theory and history of countering them is being revisited. The ‘classical’ principles which have maintained a strong influence on contemporary British counterinsurgency derived from the Malaya campaign. Although the conduct of this ‘hearts and minds’ operation is increasingly contested, it has nonetheless shaped the idea of a British approach. With counterinsurgency often framed as (feminized) population-centric or (masculinized) enemy-centric, the British have been accused of rhetoric aligned with the former whilst enacting the latter.

Through my PhD study, I will be exploring the idea of ‘women as counterinsurgents’ through a Foucauldian genealogy, analysing a number of moments or events in British counterinsurgency campaigns from Malaya onwards. I recognize the way in which ‘women as counterinsurgents’ are constructed by multiple discourses from the global to the local. In challenging the idea of history as linear and progressive, I am acknowledging the messy way in which these discourses interact: support, overlap, connect, diverge and contradict. Deconstructing the various moments, I will analyse the underpinning power dynamics and uncover how particular discourses have dominated, proved transformative or been marginalised. I will conclude by examining how the discourses constructing women as counterinsurgents subsequent to each of these moments were used to support (or not to disrupt) hegemonic conceptions of counterinsurgency.

Considering only the Malayan moment, I can describe it as a question asked by the British High Commissioner in Malaya to his wife, Lady Templer, ‘What are you doing about the Malay women in the Kampongs?’ (Cloake, 1985, p.216). This question is understood to have triggered the pioneering women’s outreach programmes delivered by the Women’s Institute and British Red Cross which led to the establishment of over 200 Women’s Institutes across Malaya within a two year period. Underpinned by contemporaneous assumptions about the role of the Army wife and the ex-patriot community in a British colony, nonetheless, their establishment of teams across the provinces, based on self-help and community improvement were described as ‘a major front in the “battle for hearts and minds of the people”’ (Cloake, 1985) and a ‘revolutionary development’ (Sunderland, 1964, p.25). And yet, this programme has remained unexplored in the context of the ‘classical’ model of counterinsurgency, absent from subsequent writing on the otherwise exhaustively studied Malaya campaign. However, the extent of this women’s outreach programme is such that it is difficult to imagine the military leaders developing their population-oriented principles of ‘classical’ counterinsurgency and not understanding the landscape of British interaction with the Malayan population to include this work. As part of the wider PhD study, this research questions how this discourse about women’s involvement in the campaign came to be marginalised.

Hannah West is a PhD student at the University of Bath and part of the South West Doctoral Training Centre. If you are interested in hearing more about Hannah’s work on Malaya, she will be speaking on Saturday 24 June at the National Army Museum conference, Women and the Army: 100 years of progress? (https://www.nam.ac.uk/whats-on/women-and-army-100-years-progress). You can also follow Hannah on Twitter (@hannah_r_west).

References

Cloake, J. (1985). Templer, Tiger of Malaya: The Life of Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer. London: Harrap.

Sunderland, R. (1964). Winning the Hearts and Minds of the People: Malaya, 1948-1960. Santa Monica. Retrieved from http://oai.dtic.mil/oai/oai?verb=getRecord&metadataPrefix=html&identifier=AD0354507

Encountering Children in Conflict Zones: The British Experience

With contemporary conflicts being fought amongst and alongside civilian populations, the likelihood of professional soldiers encountering children during military operations has increased. Legal frameworks concerning the topic of children in armed conflict are born from sociological understandings surrounding the Western concept of childhood based on the idea that children are innocent and in need of protection.

Within theatres of armed conflict children can be encountered by military forces in two distinct ways; either as innocent bystanders or as security threats. However, a moral dilemma can occur when a child, who is armed and capable of a lethal attack, is encountered by an adult soldier, whose values resonate with the Western concept of childhood. This leads to the adult soldier needing to make a difficult decision: to shoot and harm a child or to hesitate and risk harming themselves and others around them. This situation can have consequences for both the military operation and the psychological well-being of the professional soldier.

This piece of research collated evidence from former British soldiers to examine their experiences of encountering children in armed conflict, and whether the presence of children impacts military operations, and the attitudes and practices of British soldiers. Examples from the conflicts in Bosnia (1992-95), Sierra Leone (2000-02), and Afghanistan (2001-2012), determine the various roles children play in contemporary armed conflict and the different challenges the child actor poses to military personnel. Locating itself in the existing child soldier literature base, this thesis argues that children involved in armed conflict can be both victims and perpetrators. However, this thesis also approaches the topic from a security perspective. By using a bottom-up approach, it shows how soldiers have individual reactions, experiences and understandings of this particular issue which should be acknowledged when designing and implementing military training guidelines and support frameworks on this topic.

 

Former Aberystwyth student, Michelle Jones, recently submitted her PhD. Her research focused on the experiences of adult soldiers who encounter the youth in war zones. She recently accepted a post at Anglia Ruskin University as a researcher in the Veterans and Military Families Institute. For more information on Michelle’s research, follow her on twitter @MLJones03

The Matryoshka Doll: Unveiling the many layers of Demilitarization in Post-Soviet Russia from 1990 to 2000

 

The Matryoshka Doll symbolizes the process of societal demilitarization. The outer layer represents physical demilitarization and the inner doll represents the people. The layers in-between are the different societal domains that act as a barrier between the process of demilitarization and the public’s perception of the Russian military. Examining each societal domain and their portrayal of the military reveals to what extent Russian Society was demilitarized.

My research makes sense of Russian society in the 1990s by asking to what extent it has been demilitarized after the collapse of the Soviet Union and what were the consequences of this process for the culture, politics and people of Russia. During the demise of the Soviet Union and the process of democratization and ‘glasnost’ the military’s influence over Russian society slowly deteriorated, paving the way for demilitarization (Holloway, 1989; M. Steven Fish, 1990). However, following Putin’s inauguration, society was easily remilitarized in order to reconstruct Russia’s reputation as a global superpower abroad and to re-affirm its national identity within (Dmitri Trenin, 2016). My research fills a gap in our understanding of Russian society between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the coming of Putin, by arguing that Russian society has not been demilitarized after the collapse of the Soviet Union

Michael Mann defines militarism as a “set of attitudes and social practices which regards war and the preparation of war as a normal and desirable social activity.” And according to Alfred Vagts, militarism is the introduction of a “military mentality into the civilian sphere” by the armed forces. Finally, Martin Shaw states that “militarism denotes the penetration of social relations in general by military relations” (Shaw, 2012). These definitions, alongside accounts written by William Odom (1976), Alexander Golts, Tanya Putnam (2004) and John Keep (1985) which highlight the deep-rooted existence of the military in aspects of Russian society, shape my research’s definition of militarism. In order to understand how demilitarization affected society, I am examining the discourse of five main societal domains and how they portray the military.matryoshka-doll
The first decade of the Post-Soviet period in Russia is under researched. By examining reasons for lack of military intervention over a 300 year period, Brian D. Taylor implies Russia was not as militarized as suggested. However the focus of his account is narrow, making it impossible for the author to conclude on behalf of the whole society (Taylor, 2003). David Holloway argues Gorbachev’s ‘new thinking’ changed previous forms of legitimization by Brezhnev from emphasizing outside threats to cooperation, which relied heavily on prioritizing societal matters over the military power and undermined previous perceptions and need for an army (Holloway, 1989). Whilst ‘glasnost’ threatened the military’s prestige in Russian society, David Gillespie’s study on military films during the Yeltsin period greatly emphasized the void that demilitarization left in Russian society (Gillespie, 2006). Despite, Holloway’s study suggesting that ‘glasnost’ allowed the accumulation of negative public opinion towards the military, it does not account for those whose national identity relied on the military. On the other hand, whilst highlighting this reliance and attempting to examine the effect of demilitarization on society, Gillespie is solely focused on the portrayal of former military personnel under the Yeltsin regime and cannot conclude for the broader society. My research widens the scope of investigation, examining whether or not emotional demilitarization occurred and, if so, to what extent society’s portrayal of the army hindered an individual’s ability to mentally demilitarize.

My research investigates the way in which religious, educational, cultural, political and media-orientated domains have framed the First Chechen War and how this has influenced collective consciousness. School curriculums, religious sermons and media (newspapers and TV shows) from 1990 to 2000 shed light on the extent to which the military exercised power in Russian society. Whilst society can change rapidly within ten years, the remaining influence of the military in Russian society between 1990 and 2000 obstructed the demilitarization of an individual’s military mentality. My research is making sense of society as it explores how the portrayal of the military by dominant societal domains influenced society’s military mentality. These research methods can be applied to the current global climate, which is experiencing varied stages of demilitarization.

 

 

Allyson Edwards is a first year PhD candidate at Swansea University researching the cultural and societal aspects of Russian militarism from 1990 to 2000. For the next stage of her research, Allyson is heading to London to examine the mainstream Russian newspapers held at the British Library. Allyson heads to Moscow in January to continue data collection. For more information, follow Allyson via twitter @AllysonEdwards1

How did the #DRNinauguration go?

The Defence Research Network held its inaugural informal seminar and networking event on Thursday 11 May at the University of Bristol. The Defence Research Network connects PhD and Early Career Researchers studying defence, security or the Armed Forces in relation to policy, strategy, culture, and society. Over 25 participants, representing 10 different institutions, had the opportunity to share an informal brief overview of their research whilst also contributing to the shaping of this new network. Group discussions explored the opportunities for a regional programme of networking events and a future conference in addition to exploring opportunities for sharing ideas and experiences online and peer support.

Reflecting on the event, Rachel Morgan from Swansea University said, “The DRN inauguration event was a fantastic opportunity for me to network with academics studying across a broad range of disciplines. I thoroughly enjoyed presenting my research project and listening to talks given by the other scholars”. Richard Fisher from Cranfield University also enjoyed the event saying that “it was really good value to meet like-minded people” and, “The breadth of defence research being conducted is outstanding and there’s so many opportunities for people to share and test ideas, co-operate and help forge relationships for the rest of their academic careers”.

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Between face to face events, the Defence Research Network takes the form of an online forum which enables researchers to identify common research interests, share best practice as well as sharing information on upcoming events and publications. The network will also provide a space for sharing unpublished work, exploring particular ethical challenges, testing ideas, and informal peer review. Participant research interests include cybersecurity, counterinsurgency, the history of air power and the education of Armed Forces families. If you are interested in joining the network please contact us on defenceresearchnetwork@gmail.com or on Twitter (@DefenceResNet).

#DRNinauguration Agenda!

Hi everybody!

As promised, here is the agenda for our inaugural event on the 11th May in the Social Sciences Complex at Bristol University!

0930-1030 Registration and coffee
1000-1030 Welcome and introduction to network
1030-1115 Session 1: Research introductions
1115-1145 Coffee and networking, posters and objects
1145-1300 Session 2: Group discussions

·         Future conference

·         External organisations and collaboration

·         Communications including Yammer

·         Peer support (including blog)

1300-1400 Lunch
1400-1445 Session 3: Research introductions
1445-1515 Coffee and networking
1515-1630 Session 4: Group feedback and closing remarks

As you can see from the table, we have set out time for you to introduce your research. Don’t worry! This is not a conference. This is an opportunity for you to tell us about your research (in no more than three minutes), within a safe and supportive environment. There will be no Q & A. Instead, the breaks will be a useful time to get feedback and connect with other PhD and Early-Career researchers within a similar field of study. In addition, we want you to create and bring a poster outlining your research. Again, this is not compulsory but we want you to get the most out of the Defence Research Network. The network is a platform that will enable you to meet researchers with a similar research interest, create a rapport and make connections that will be useful for your future research. Your participation in these activities will ensure that you get the most out of the day, and the network! Plus, we hope you can join us at the pub after the event. We have prepared a military/ defence/ security themed pub quiz!

Looking forward to seeing you!

#DRN

IMPORTANT: If you haven’t already, please sign up for the event at defenceresearchnetwork.eventbrite.co.uk