How Reservists negotiate their military identities in the civilian workplace.

Over the last few years I’ve been working with a group of colleagues on an ESRC-funded research project, Keeping Enough in Reserve, and an important paper coming out of that research is now available.  Published in the journal Critical Military Studies, the paper was prompted by what seemed like a contradiction at the heart of the Future Reserves programme.  On the one hand, reforms to the Reserves initiated from around 2011 onwards were often talked about in Government statements in terms of the utility of a reformed Reserve in developing and sustaining positive civil-military relationships.  On the other hand, when we interviewed Reservists we were struck by the ways that they talked about the separation that they maintained between their military and civilian lives and identities.  It seemed to us that this reticence at an individual level was in marked contrast to the broader objective.  Although the development of civil-military relationships was by no means the only driving force behind Reserves reform (and for further commentary see our paper in Defence Studies and Patrick Bury’s book Mission Improbable), it was not insignificant.

The paper looks how reservists believe themselves to be regarded by their civilian co-workers, as military actors of a particular kind.  There are many instances where our military interviewees reported that their identities were discredited by their civilian co-workers, in ways that seemed to align with Erving Goffman’s concept of stigma and spoilt identity.  Our interviewees, in response, showed a lot of reflexivity and creativity in presenting civilianized selves in the workplace, and put a great deal of effort into the management of distance and familiarity with colleagues in terms of the ways they did and did not talk about their lives as Reservists in their civilian jobs.  In the paper, we consider this as a potentially productive tension, and ask whether there is what we call a ‘militarist dividend’ as a consequence.

The paper is available open access, so is free to download by anyone, including those without a subscription to the journal. Click on the link below.

Higate, P., Dawes, A., Edmunds, T., Jenkings, K.N. and Woodward, R.  (2019)  Militarization, stigma and resistance: negotiating military reservist identity in the civilian workplace.  Critical Military Studies. Available online.

Further information about the Keeping Enough in Reserve project and the wider ESRC/MoD Future Reserves Research Programme is available here.


Rachel Woodward

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