All posts by Alice Cree

Dr Alice Cree is an ESRC Research Fellow in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology. Her research interests broadly include Critical Military Studies, feminist geopolitics, military geography, and creative methodologies in political geography. Her postdoctoral project titled “Dramatising the home front: The lively politics of gendered militarism” seeks to explore the critical potential of participatory theatre to address broader debates in military studies. In particular, it will develop her doctoral work with the Plymouth branch of the Military Wives Choir, and consider how participatory community theatre can give flesh to the “material, discursive, and emotional labour” undertaken by women married to servicemen (Hyde 2016: 857).

Artist’s research informs new Cold War documentary

Newcastle University Press Release, 30th October 2019

Research carried out as part of a PhD has led to a new BBC Four documentary examining Britain’s response to the Cold War.

A British Guide to the End of the World came about after a TV producer heard Newcastle University researcher Michael Mulvihill speaking about his thesis, which looks at how creative arts can investigate the effects of the nuclear deterrent on society.

Michael was at a series of workshops organised by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership when he was asked to pitch his thesis to a group of television producers.

Now, he is an associate producer on the 80 minute film which is directed by BAFTA winner Dan Vernon and produced by award winning production company Erica Starling Productions. It is being broadcast as part of a Cold War season on BBC Four, timed to coincide with 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“It is really amazing to see over four years of research come to life in this film,” says Michael, an interdisciplinary researcher from the University’s School of Arts and Cultures and School of Geography, Politics and Sociology. “Objects that had been just archive items have been given voices. It’s quite an amazing experience.”

Operation Grapple

The Arena film begins with Operation Grapple – a series of British thermonuclear bomb tests that took place in the south Pacific islands between 1957 and 1958. It offers unique access to footage, some of it which was previously classified, from ex-military personnel who filmed their arrival on Christmas Island to carry out these tests.

It then shows how over succeeding decades the British authorities tried to plan for the prospect of nuclear war reaching these shores – a devastating event that never happened. Long neglected broadcasts from news and government sources reveal a time when paranoia was stockpiled, leaving a generation traumatised.

“I think the film dramatically shows how the authorities struggled to conceive a system civil defence against a weapon of incredible power,” says Michael. “Weapons that still pose a threat today.”

The Unblinking Eye

The Cold War period has preoccupied him for years. As a child in the 1980s, he would time how fast he could run home from primary school in case the four minute warning, telling of impending nuclear attack, ever sounded. It took him six minutes.

Decades on, his fears of war between the East and West have informed his PhD in Fine Art and Geography. And as well as the documentary, his academic research led to him becoming the first ever artist-in-residence at RAF Fylingdales in North Yorkshire – the UK early warning system where the four minute warning would be signalled. The residency led to a large scale museum exhibition.

“The Cold War was something that felt very real when I was growing up,“ he says. “Thirty years on, a lot of people have forgotten what that period felt like, that underlying fear that the world may be on the brink of nuclear war at any time.”

The exhibition at Whitby Museum, The Unblinking Eye: 55 Years of Space Operations on Fylingdales Moor, makes public for the first time previously unseen objects from the station alongside new artworks by Mulvihill. It also presents new research on the history of RAF Fylingdales in local, national and international contexts, highlighting the North York Moors’ integral role in international space monitoring and the cultural legacy of the iconic ‘golf balls’.

Rachel Woodward, Professor of Human Geography who supervised Michael’s PhD thesis says: “Michael’s work as an artist and a geographer shows how seemingly unorthodox approaches to studying military and security issues can really help us all understand their history and their present effects so much better.”

A British Guide to the End of the World will be broadcast at 9pm on Monday 4 November on BBC4.

The Unblinking Eye: 55 Years of Space Operations on Fylingdales Moor is on show at Whitby Museum until 17 November.

A screening of A British Guide to the End of the World and a conversation with Michael Mulvihill, director Dan Vernon and award winning documentary filmmaker Alison Millar, will take place at Newcastle University later this year.


A screening of films by the artists Rachel Garfield, Margareta Kern and Anne Robinson, followed by a discussion.

Thursday 7th November 2019, 19:30

Star and Shadow Cinema, Warwick St, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 1BB.

Tickets are free, but please reserve a seat here.

Examining the persistent and pervasive presence of war in all of our lives: each artist engages with the complexities of militarism and conflict: Robinson ‘listening to the past’ through fragmented intergenerational memory, Garfield asking questions about 20th century certainties through subjective experiences in military outposts and Kern interrogating the presence of ships and war games too close to home.  The screening will be followed by a discussion with Rachel Garfield, Margareta Kern and Anne Robinson in conversation with Professor Rachel Woodward (Newcastle University)

Wakeful (2018) is a new artists’ moving image work by Anne Robinson. ‘If I Sleep, I May be Caught’: motto of HMS Wakeful a WW1 destroyer, built on ‘Red’ Clydeside in 1917 on which the artist’s father was ship’s cook. Drawing on a fragmented childhood memory and a ‘hidden history’ from a century ago, Wakeful is a project about listening to the past: a new film work with percussive sound, constructed with international collaborators and considering the ‘peace’ one hundred years on.  Wakeful uses film technologies to record the passing of time strangely as performers re-inhabit the past, the landscapes of war give up their dead and soundscapes of the past seep into the present.  More information about Anne Robinson’s work is available here.

Opening Up (Rachel Garfield, 2016) is the second film in a trilogy that reflects on the historical shifts in subjectivity through interviews with people who grew up in specific backgrounds such as politics, the military and religion. Opening Up merges shot footage from Catterick Garrison in Yorskshire and Otterburn, Northumberland with internet sourced combat footage. Garfield asks questions about the destabilization of 20th Century certainties through the people who grew up on various military outposts, stragglers to historical forces such as Northern Ireland and Germany.  More information about Opening Up is available here.

A sense of watching and of being watched, of being the agent and object of surveillance, permeates the film.  We are invited to consider what should and should not be seen, to wonder about the legitimacy of looking at the spaces of military domesticity and to ponder techniques of watching and observation used by Garfield, military forces, and of course ourselves as viewers.  Where do we look, and what do we see, when we consider the domesticity of Army life?“ Rachel Woodward, Newcastle University and Matthew Rech, University of Plymouth.

Thursday War (2019) is a work-in-progress by artist Margareta Kern, through which she documents the almost continual presence of warships and submarines outside her kitchen window. ‘Thursday War’ is a colloquial name within the Royal Navy for the weekly exercises of war-fighting and damage control, as they are a culmination of the training period, usually held on a Thursday. During an exercise, forces are asked to respond to a fictitious scenario that resembles what might occur in real life. Exercises can last from a day to several weeks involving aircraft, navy ships, artillery pieces, armoured vehicles and thousands of troops. Kern relocated to Cornwall from London, which has been her home since she fled the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s, only to find herself witnessing a simulation of war from her new home.  More information about Margareta Kern’s work is available here.

A Research Agenda for Military Geographies

Edited by Rachel Woodward

(Edward Elgar Publishing, 2019)

ISBN: 978 1 78643 886 7

A Research Agenda for Military Geographies has now been published.  The book is an edited collection of thirteen chapters (plus a short introduction by me) which all deal, in some way or another, with the ways in which military phenomena and military activities are expressed and constituted geographically.  The intention behind the collection is to give readers new to the field a sense of the range of ways in which we can think about military geographies, and that intended readership is diverse, from undergraduates who may be starting to think through this basic ideas, to more established scholars within geography and beyond, who want to get a sense of the range of issues at play when we talk about military geographies.  If you’re interested in reading it, ask your library to stock a copy.

Editing a book is not without its difficulties, but this was a really straightforward collection to bring together.  I had been approached about the possibility of editing this book a few years ago by Edward Elgar Publishing (who, incidentally, I would highly recommend to any author or editor – the team there are both efficient and utterly supportive), but for various reasons didn’t get started on the book until early 2018.  The brief I gave to prospective authors was broad – to write about the military/geography connection in whatever way they saw fit.  Some authors chose to write a synthesis of current research and thinking with respect to a specific issue, and others chose to position detailed empirical analysis within a broader conceptual context.  Either way, I’m delighted with the chapters, because taken together they provide a really clear indication of the diverse ways in which we can think geographically about military activities and military phenomena.  It’s important, I think, that not all of the authors identify what they do in research terms as ‘military geography’, and nor do all of the authors self-identify as geographers.  This makes the point, implicitly at least, that when thinking about the geographical constitution and expression of military activities, we’re dealing with a very wide range of issues which require consideration from diverse viewpoints.

I’m also really pleased to have contributions in the book from scholars at a range of career stages, from early career scholars (including a couple who were still completing their PhDs at time of writing) through to established figures in the field.  We have contributions from around the world, too, as a means of trying to escape from the Anglocentricity of much writing in the field (though inevitably perhaps given my own positioning and knowledge, the UK and US experiences figure centrally).  Some of the contributors were well known to me as writers in this field (even if I’d never met them in person).  With others I took a gamble on the basis of only knowing very little about their research, and invited a contribution with the hope that they would have something interesting to say.  They did.  I don’t want to make rash claims that the book brings together absolutely all possible perspectives on the geography/military relationship – there are gaps, of course.  But I’m confident that collectively the chapters set out a fairly full range ideas about what military geographies might constitute and where we might focus our attention in the future.

I won’t list the chapters here, but if you go to the Edward Elgar Publishing webpage for the book, here you’ll be able to click on the ‘look inside’ button to see the table of contents and read the introductory chapter which contains brief chapter summaries.  In brief, there are chapters on the emergence of traditional military geography, on genocide and militarism, on nuclear warfare, on aerial perspectives, on the securitization of arid spaces, on the intersections between law, war and geography, on military geoeconomics, on everyday military geographies, on soldier deployments and spirituality, on military masculinities, on military theatre, on environmental politics, and on post-military spaces.   I really really enjoyed working on this book, and my thanks have to go to the 17 contributors who together made this book possible.

Rachel Woodward

Creative Methods in Military Studies… What Next?

On Wednesday 5th of June 2019, the Military War and Security Research Group at Newcastle University hosted an intensive one-day workshop on ‘Creative Methods in Military Studies’.

This event emerged out of an awareness that there are so many of us doing really interesting creative projects that in some way approach military power and experience, creative in the sense that projects were finding new ways of using established approaches, or were developing creative practices as methods in themselves. And yet, despite all this great work being done in military studies, there hadn’t been much opportunity for real conversations about what these creative approaches could bring to our research. So, what we really wanted to do in this workshop was bring some of this work together, and explore a few key questions:

  • What constitutes ‘creative research’ in military studies?
  • What can creative methods offer our understanding of military power and militarised cultures?
  • What are some of the challenges of this type of work?

We ended up with a huge amount of interest in the event (which I think is indicative of how open to this way of working critical military studies folk are!) and on the day had 45 participants from as far away as Norway and the United States (you can see the final programme for the event here). This included academic researchers of all career stages, veterans (or those who identify instead as ex-military), artists, creative practitioners, and psychologists – so, it was a really diverse group. The range of creative approaches we heard about included military theatre (such as Alice Cree’s collaborative work with Workie Ticket Theatre Company  and female veterans in ‘Women Warriors’) and Sarah Bulmer, Victoria Basham and David Jackson’s work on Lola Arias’ ‘Minefield’), sound installations, model making, photography, song-writing (you can read about Hannah West’s work on this here), dance, fiction, creative approaches to teaching Critical Military Studies, and more. We had some great conversations around ethics (is there a distinct ethics to making military experience ‘interesting’ through creativity?), data and analysis (what do we consider to be our ‘data’ in these creative works, and how do we analyse them?), representation (who gets to speak for whom?), and collaboration (what is the ‘value added’ of collective creative engagement?).

Across the presentations and conversations, several threads emerged.  Relationships are important, between academics and practitioners, between academic-practitioners and audiences, and with different types of audiences, which might be civilian or military or both.  There are always issues around military involvement in research practice, and issues of control, accountability, transparency, gate-keeping, involvement and non-involvement.  The spaces of creative engagement and creative practice, and of engagements with audiences, are multiple and varied, and we wondered how these different spaces shape or allow engagements of researchers with military phenomena, and shape relationships between academic-practitioners and audiences.  There is also the question about the ultimate purpose of activities that identify as ‘creative’; is it to find new representational forms, or new audiences, or new ways of addressing research questions, or all these in combination?

There is something we’ve been left mulling over though…What is it about creative approaches that can help us specifically in our work on and with military power? After hearing about all of this really interesting and critically engaging work that people are doing in critical military studies, it seems that there is definitely something useful in looking beyond typical modes of research and representation in this work. One of the common threads that connected many of the presentations related to embodiment and lived experience. Melanie Friend’s work on the militarised landscape of Salisbury Plain for example considered how different people experienced the ‘militarised’ sounds of the space, while Lindsay Clark’s ideas around ‘drone dance’ considered how choreographed bodily movement might help us to think differently about embodiment in disembodied warfare. In both of these examples, as with many of the others that we heard from, creative methods or forms were used in some way to explore aspects of military power and military experience that are not otherwise accounted for. Victoria Basham & Sarah Bulmer (2017) tell us that we must out of necessity think differently about what it means to practice critique in military studies, arguing that “[t]his recognition has profound implications for feminist praxis because it compels us to ask the question: What remains hidden if we fail to get closer to that which we critique?” (p68). Is part of the value of creative approaches in military studies therefore that they can help us to get closer to that which we critique, by tapping into the lived, the felt, the embodied, and the sensory experiences of military power? If we are committed to deepening our critical engagement with militaries and their practices of power then it seems that creative methods have a lot to offer, and so maybe we should be doing more of it.

We’re currently thinking about what to do next, and in particular whether we should develop a publication of some kind bringing together different stories about approaches which in some way use creative methods or practices to address military phenomena.  If you’re interested in joining the conversation, get in touch.

Alice Cree and Rachel Woodward

The military memoirs book cover challenge

There’s a thing that’s been doing the rounds on Twitter over the past few weeks, termed variously ‘#7days7books’, or ‘#7daybookcoverchallenge’ or ‘#7daybookcover’.  The idea is that you Tweet images of book covers over 7 consecutive days, and challenge someone else to do the same when you do so.  You are instructed not to include any explanation or justification – just the images of book covers.  I’ve been spending more time than I should looking at what gets posted under this hashtag, because I’m interested in book covers.  This is mostly an outcome of the military memoirs work that Neil Jenkings and I have been doing over the last ten years; we ended up thinking a lot about their covers and their role in book marketing.  When we interviewed military memoirists we asked them to explain to us why their books looked like they did.  They had some really fascinating observations on this, and you can read our discussions of this in the chapter ‘Why Do Military memoirs Look Like They Do?’ in Bringing War to Book.  If you can’t get hold of a copy of the book and want to read the chapter, get in touch with me direct (

I was tagged in the book covers challenge by a colleague, and of course couldn’t resist.  I decided that all the covers had to be of military memoirs.  But selecting just seven was tough; I’ve got 250+ military memoirs on the shelves in my office, and those are just the ones about participation in the UK armed forces and published after 1980.  And then I found it impossible to randomly tweet images of the selected seven without wanting also to say something about why I was so drawn to these covers.  So I felt a blog post was called for.


  1. F.N. Clarke, Contact, (Secker and Warburg, 1983)

I like the dark pink, and I like the line drawing; no other military memoirs in my collection use either this colour or this style of illustration.  I think the vehicle shown is an FV603 Saracen (I had to do a bit of web-browsing to work this out – apologies if I have this wrong), an armoured personnel carrier in use by the British Army in the 1970s.  The singular title and a line drawing give nothing away.  This is one of the Northern Ireland deployment memoirs.  There are not that many of these in existence (Neil Jenkings and I have written about this here).  A.F.N. Clarke’s account draws on his two tours of Northern Ireland with 3 PARA, to Belfast in 1973 and to Crossmaglen in 1976.  I’ve found it a useful and illuminating book for a number of reasons.  I’ve just flicked through it again, and have found inside a note-to-self from a number of years ago saying ‘John Hockey says this was made into a BBC film’. John is always a well-informed source, so I need to check this out.  I did another quick web search, and I see that Contact was re-issued in 2010 in a revised edition which includes text about injury and trauma suffered by the author that had been removed from the manuscript prior to publication of the first edition.  So there’s a story there that I’ll have to look into too.  I’ve ordered a copy of the revised edition.  It has one of Jonathan Olley’s Castles of Ulster photographs on the cover – a stark military landscape.


  1. Hugh McManners, Falklands Commando (originally published by William Kimber & Co, 1984, cover below from HarperCollins edition, 2002)

I bought this book in 2003, when I’d been doing some work on the idea on rurality and military masculinities, and was starting to get interested in military personnel’s accounts of the spaces and places of their deployment.  I remember picking the book up in the shop, looking at the cover, and deciding to buy it on that basis.  The picture above is a scan of my copy, which has been read a number of times as you can see by the creases and the coffee stain on the cover.  The image credits in the book indicate that the photograph was taken during a specific operation (Brewer’s Arms) during the Falklands War.  Author images make for good book covers because they communicate the idea of veracity (so important to military memoirs given the number of people who will take issue with the idea of their ‘truth’).  This image is striking; the author’s face is lit by the sun, and his rifle is visible but in shadow.  He looks cold and tired and battle-worn.  He fixes us with his stare, and we can guess at fatigue by looking at the size of the Bergen on his back.  The distinctive stencil font clarifies this as ‘military’, as if we hadn’t already guessed – a cliché, I know, but effective nonetheless.


  1. Andy McNab, Bravo Two Zero (Corgi, 1994)

I bought this when I first started doing research on military-related things (mostly the politics of military land use) in about 1997, and I realised that I knew virtually nothing about the organisation and structures of the British Army.  I had tried to read a few things like Charles Heyman’s pocket books, but as useful as these are, they aren’t exactly light reading.  I saw Bravo Two Zero on sale and realised I recognised the title, but knew little else about it.  So I bought it.  Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.  The book is about a Special Forces operation in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War; the operation is compromised and the story unfolds around what happens to McNab and his colleagues in the aftermath.  It’s an action-adventure memoir that’s still worth reading; the fact that it sold about 1.5 million copies is indicative. As for the cover, there are several significant features:  the use of fire, indicating destruction, chaos and rebirth; the use of McNab’s post-nominals to signal his credibility and achievements as a soldier; the use of the SAS winged dagger, ever-present on the covers Special Forces books to indicate its potential appeal to a particular market segment (read John Newsinger’s Dangerous Men for a full account). Bravo Two Zero, famously, has its detractors, and there are a number of interesting stories about the afterlives of this book and its cultural effects.  I’ve got a more recent edition of Bravo Two Zero with an updated cover using more contemporary military memoir design features (armed men in silhouette, visible rifles, a helicopter, use of muted sandy colours).  These are common in memoirs from the 2000s, from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the re-designed cover was produced presumably to introduce the book to a new readership.  But I have a fondness for the original – the use of fire and the winged dagger are repeated on the covers of many Special Forces memoirs, but this one’s The Daddy.


  1. Sarah Ford, One Up (HarperCollins, 1997)

Military memoirs written by women are fairly rare – at the last count I had ten by women in my collection of 250+.  This is because of the smaller number of women having a military experience to write about (even in 2019, only 10.4% of the UK’s armed forces are women), and because of publishers’ primary interests in specific types of narratives relating to direct combat roles, roles from which women were excluded until very recently.  The military memoirs written by women have tended to be about women in exceptional roles – although across this small collection, they accord in the main with the conventions of the genre as a whole (Claire Duncanson, Neil Jenkings and I have written a chapter about gender and military memoirs here).  I like this cover because it shows, simply, a woman dressed for her job.  There’s nothing sexualized about the image either (unlike the covers of some other memoirs by women).  The book itself is well worth reading; it’s Ford’s account of her military life which included attachment to Special Forces in Northern Ireland, and it’s one I’ve used a lot when trying to think about both gender issues in the military, and things like the movement of personnel through spaces of deployment (she is deployed because, being a woman, she has access to spaces and access to modes of intelligence gathering not available to men).   And the implications of familiarity in the endorsement is also interesting (McNab is a serial endorser of military memoirs, and there’s something to be written about that too, another time).


  1. Monty Woolley, Cleanse their Souls (Pen & Sword, 2004)

This is a memoir of peacekeeping in Bosnia; the author was a Lieutenant with the Cheshire Regiment battlegroup deployed in 1992-93, and the story centres around his witnessing of atrocities.  The image show what looks like a displaced family; there is rubble in the background and the sense that it is a cold winter day.  The abjection of the family is notable, and the hand of the man front and centre in the image is blurred, as if he’s gesturing to someone off camera.  There’s no photo credit (that I can find, anyway) in the book, and I’ve wondered a number of times whether this is one taken by the author, or whether the author is one of the two soldiers shown.  It is a striking image because military memoirs rarely have covers showing civilians caught up in war. Catherine Baker has written a number of interesting papers on the experiences of British military personnel in Bosnia, and her work explores issues of language, translation and communication, and the difficulties and politics of this in the British deployments to Bosnia. This book captures something of those issues, I think.


  1. Dan Mills, Sniper One (Penguin, 2008)

This is such a great example of contemporary military memoir cover design that I had to include it.  It has everything: the stencil effect typeface for the title (and when you hold the book in your hand you appreciated that the title is slightly embossed on the card of the cover); the cross hairs around the letter O; the use of sandy-camouflage design in the background; the palm trees to indicate a vague sense of location; the inclusion of a very visible weapon (which I assume to be a sniper rifle); and images of three figures which look like they could have been superimposed on each other from three different original sources.  We see another Andy McNab endorsement, the idea that this is a popular book selling in high volumes, and the sub-heading indicates very clearly what kind of account this is likely to be.  I’ve seen a more recent edition with ‘The book they tried to ban’ included on the cover, and this will always help with sales (though I’m not sure, and must check up on, the reasons for this).  This cover was really helpful to Neil and I when we wrote a piece on military masculinities and public narratives of war, available here.


  1. Pen Farthing, One Dog at a Time (Ebury, 2009)

I like showing an image of this cover when I give lectures or talks about military memoirs.  I put the image up on screen, look out at the audience, and watch as they go ‘awwwww’ and start to smile.  Puppies.  What’s not to like?  It’s also a really interesting example to think about when trying to determine the parameters of the military memoirs genre.  Neil and I have always worked within the definition of a book as a military memoir if it is written as a first-person, non-fiction account of deployment by a military operative in some kind of military context (which needn’t necessarily include armed conflict).  So according to this definition, we include it as a military memoir, because it is about the activities of the author and colleagues on a tour in Afghanistan in 2009.  But the author and publisher categorise it within the genre of true-life animal stories, and booksellers position it there on the shelves of their shops, rather than in the military history section where military memoirs are usually found.  The author’s comment when we interviewed him was that it was a kind of ‘Marley and Me – with guns’.  Because although it’s a deployment story, the narrative focuses on the activities of Farthing and colleagues in rescuing stray dogs.  When the author returned to the UK, he set up the Nowzad charity which works for animal welfare in Afghanistan – activities like vet training, animal neutering, anti-rabies programmes and the like.  What seems to me to be significant about this book – and the cover is crucial in this – is that it works as a mechanism for telling people who wouldn’t necessarily have kept up with news media reporting, about the activities of British forces in Helmand in Afghanistan.  Many people who wouldn’t have access to information about the experience of those deployments would learn something about them through reading about dog rescue.  I won’t go into the politics of representations of the Afghanistan war (Neil and I have written about that here), and I don’t want to suggest that the dominant narrative should be one of dog rescue.  But in talking about dog rescue, the author managed to reach a readership that other military memoirs wouldn’t, and that has to be a useful thing.


Rachel Woodward


The labours of military spouses: Unpaid (and precarious?)

Two days ago the Government’s Defence in the Media blog responded to the recent Barclays report, which explores the career barriers faced by military spouses as a result of their partner’s service (you can read their blog post here). The research by Barclays suggests that 1 in 5 military spouses surveyed felt that they face discrimination when applying for jobs, while a third claimed that they either had to reduce their hours or leave their job entirely as a result of their partner’s service.

Families, and in particular spouses, of military personnel are integral to the functioning of the Armed Forces (Cynthia Enloe’s book Does Khaki Become You  is great for an overview on this). Military partners engage in countless forms of unpaid labour in service of the military and its ideals, ranging from domestic duties and solo childcare during deployment, to fundraising and ‘flying the flag’ for military charities that fill the gap in the provision of support for veterans and their families. The partners of servicemen and women even provide a level of emotional support and stability for their spouses that they usually do not get elsewhere, both of which are crucial to the very survival of the Armed Forces (see Denise Horn’s chapter on military support networks in Gender, War and Militarism: Feminist Perspectives). It is no wonder that Segal describes the military family as the intersection of two “greedy institutions”, both of whom demand commitment, loyalty, time and energy.

The findings of the Barclays report are troubling, but unsurprising. Over the course of my research with the Military Wives Choir in Plymouth, I heard a number of similar stories from women who had left their jobs, moved across the country or even across the world as a result of their partner’s military service (see Alex Hyde’s chapter in The Palgrave International Handbook of Gender and the Military for further reading on the mobilities of army wives). What groups like the Military Wives Choir offered these women was an opportunity to meet people who understand the lives they live, make friends, and have time for themselves. More than that though, as I discovered, the choir was often empowering its members to go back into education, start businesses and change career direction. One research participant said;

It has been very empowering, a lot of the girls have started to do things like they’ve started courses, so like for me I’ve wanted to train to be a counsellor for a while and going to the choir and doing the gigs and having the support and stuff I’ve finished my course. Other girls have started up businesses, other girls have changed jobs or gone for jobs that they’ve always wanted to go for, and I think it’s been really empowering for everybody to have this voice, that’s a big thing that the choir has given us. It’s given us this voice together but also individually, so like “OK I want to go and change my job so I’m going to change my job”.

We are beginning to see more support for the partners of servicemen and women when it comes to employment. The Armed Forces Covenant for example, alongside organisations like X-Forces, offer valuable support to veterans and military spouses in the development of their careers and business enterprises. In their response to the Barclay’s report, an MoD spokesperson said;

Service families are a vital part of the Armed Forces community and we encourage companies to support the careers of military partners through the Armed Forces Covenant. We have announced a new fund to step up access to vocational training and career development for military partners, and we’ve recently launched a review into the support for service families, to ensure they are not disadvantaged by their loved ones’ service.

But, it seems to me that groups like the Military Wives Choir also have an important role to play. What these kinds of organisations do, that more formal support networks perhaps cannot, is offer a safe and emotionally supportive space for self-reflection and empowerment. After all, it is undeniable that a significant challenge facing female military spouses in particular is that the gender roles in military families, which mark wives as homemakers and husbands as breadwinners, remain pervasive. Groups like the Military Wives Choir arguably offer a means of helping these women imagine their lives, and the roles that they play in them, differently. Seeing greater value attributed to these kinds of groups might therefore represent a positive step forward in reducing the disadvantage faced by military partners in the workplace.

You can read more about the findings from my research with the Military Wives Choir in a previous blog post, available here.

Published work from this research is forthcoming!

Alice Cree

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

The Current Recruitment Crisis in the British Armed Forces

The British armed forces are experiencing an acute crisis in their ability to recruit personnel. There is a current personnel deficit of 6.6% in full-time trained personnel across the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force, with this deficit being higher in the Army at 7.5%. This recruitment crisis is not new; the British armed forces have continuously experienced difficulties in recruiting enough personnel, with Hew Strachan in 2000 noting such difficulties have arguably existed since the time of the Boer war. The British military is finding itself challenged on multiple fronts when it comes to recruitment, explaining why these difficulties are so persistent. Factors such as high employment levels, demographic change (with a declining population of young people who represent the main target audience for recruitment and rising numbers of women and non-white populations typically less inclined towards a military career) and a shrinking presence and visibility within wider society have all contributed to creating a challenging recruitment environment. The former Chief of the General Staff Sir Nicholas Carter reiterated this point in a 2016 appearance before the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. When asked about the state of recruitment to the regular Army, he responded:

“The answer is that it is not as good as we need it to be, nor indeed as I would like it to be. It is a very challenging recruiting marketplace at the moment. The economy is reasonably vibrant. We have had four rounds of redundancy over the past four years, which has sent a message. Our traditional recruiting grounds—here I am talking about white Caucasian 16 to 25-year-olds—have shrunk by about 25% over the past 10 years. We are therefore having to adjust our recruiting to get after a different recruiting base from the one that traditionally we went to.”

These factors have been further exacerbated by the unpopularity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which decreased the recruitment appeal of the armed forces, particularly amongst gatekeepers such as parents who the military must navigate to persuade young people to enlist. There is little doubt, then, that the armed forces are facing a crisis in their ability to recruit personnel, a point reiterated by the National Audit Office’s 2018 report into recruitment and skills shortages within the armed forces and the 2017 Francois Report into the state of recruiting for the Prime Minister.

The question is therefore how are the armed forces responding to these difficulties? My interest in this question arises from a broader (feminist) concern with the gendered culture of the armed forces. If the armed forces are having to broaden their conception of what constitutes the ideal soldier, sailor, or aviator as a consequence of their inability to recruit according to its traditional template, as Sir Nicholas Carter’s remarks imply, it is important to ask how changes in recruitment strategies might (re)shape the armed forces understanding of who can serve and how they can do so. We see one example of this potential ‘reshaping’ in the Army’s 2018 This is Belonging campaign. As has been noted elsewhere by Paul Higate and Nivi Manchanda and Jennifer Mathers the campaign is significant for framing a military career through questions such as ‘can you be gay in the Army?’, ‘can you be Muslim in the Army?’ and ‘can you be emotional in the Army?’, representing a significant departure from the images of action and adventure which recruitment campaigns are typically organised around.

Although the implications of the campaign and whether it represents a genuine attempt to diversify who the Army seeks to recruit is debatable, it nevertheless captures how armed forces recruiting is in a state of change. This is reinforced by the fact the campaign proved highly controversial, provoking a backlash from former Army officers and others who argued the campaign represented a ‘softening’ of the Army’s approach and identity and was unlikely to recruit the numbers needed. This so-called ‘softening’ of the Army’s identity has been a perennial theme in debates concerning recruitment since the early 1980’s. The campaign is therefore a marked illustration of the tension between the Army’s masculine identity and its need to appeal to population segments which typically conflict with that identity. As the armed forces continues to struggle to recruit the personnel it needs, both in terms of quantity but also in terms of skills, it is therefore worth thinking about what this ‘crisis’ in recruitment might make possible both in terms of who the armed forces seek to recruit and the types of images through which they market themselves. The example of This is Belonging signals the importance of thinking about this question, especially as we look towards the Army’s new campaign which launches in January. It will be interesting to see if the new campaign builds upon the ‘inclusive’ messaging of its predecessor or reverts back to more traditional messaging.

However, it is equally important to note that the British armed forces are also taking additional steps to respond to their recruitment difficulties beyond adjusting their recruitment messaging, most notably in 2018 lifting the residency requirement for Commonwealth applications (and see Vron Ware’s Military Migrants for a fuller discussion of Commonwealth recruitment. This demonstrates that the armed forces are not confident of their ability to source a sufficient amount of recruits from the UK alone, reiterating how recruitment is in a state of significant change and that the armed forces need to draw on a wider labour market. This matters because as scholars such as Amanda Chisholm have illustrated, the fact that individuals from the global South are motivated to join the British military is not politically neutral but shaped by classed, gendered and raced inequities. Thus, even as British military recruitment campaigns such as This is Belonging seek to produce a more inclusive military identity, it is worth remembering that recruitment continues to be complicit in (re)producing the inequalities which shape an individuals’ predisposition to serve.

Matthew Kearns

Our Boys: The Story of a Paratrooper, by Helen Parr (Penguin, 2018)

Dr Helen Parr, from Keele University’s School of International Relations, will be visiting Newcastle on Tuesday 11th December to talk about her book Our Boys.  The event will be at Blackwells Bookshop on Percy Street in Newcastle at 6pm.  Our Boys is an excellent book and highly recommended, and if you’re able to come to the event, please join us – all are welcome.

At the core of the book is the story Helen has woven together from multiple sources, about the Paratroop Regiment’s experience on the Falkland Islands in the 1982 war and more specifically the participation and loss of her uncle Dave Parr during the conflict.  Helen brings a historian’s sensibility to the task of telling the story, with her meticulous use of a wide range of sources from official or quasi-official records, through to published memoirs and personal papers, to interviews and conversations with former Paras and their families.  She is insightful about these sources; where there are gaps or half-truths or common misconceptions in the public memory and discourse on the Falklands War, she is able to speak with authority about why it is that some things are well known and some not, and how fuller details about incidents during the war have come to light. What we get in this book is an account that can stand on its own merits as a book about the Parachute Regiment’s experience in the Falklands War, but which can also sit alongside older, sometimes quite well-known, narratives and shed new light on them.  For me, having read most of the first-person military memoirs of the Falklands War, Our Boys provided a really authoritative contextualising of the narratives I know well, by positioning them within a wider framework.  So I learned a great deal by reading it.  The book is a nuanced, readable and insightful narrative.

What is particularly interesting, too, is the framing of this Falklands War account around the men of the Parachute Regiment.  As the books’ title suggests, it’s in part the story of a paratrooper, her uncle Dave Parr.  But because of the efforts Helen has taken to engage directly with others serving in the regiment at the time, it’s also the story of the collective group of men enlisting in the Regiment in the late 1970s.  She explores the patterns that emerge when their backgrounds are considered, and the context for recruitment at that time of national industrial decline and the lack of opportunities for young working class men.   She provides us with details of significance to understanding the Regiment at the time, the importance of particular modes of training, the capabilities in terms of physical robustness and endurance abilities developed in recruits, and features common to the backgrounds of many recruits on enlistment that pushed them to military service and gave them the necessary resilience to cope with its demands.

Our Boys, in Part 3, then turns the focus outwards to consider the aftermaths of the conflict, for the soldiers themselves, for their families, for wider social understanding of military participation, and ultimately for the nation state.  As Helen puts it, ‘The hours of intense combat on the Falklands were in some ways the crucible into which 1970s British life was poured and came out altered’ (p.293).  Through this book, Helen makes the connections crystal clear, between individual deaths through armed conflict, and the national narratives that try to account for these losses.

As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed reading this book.  More information on Our Boys can be found here.

Rachel Woodward

News: Creative Methods in Military Studies workshop June 2019

Creative Methods in Military Studies


Newcastle University

Wednesday 5th June 2019

How do we do critical military studies? CMS has done much to explore the myriad sites, subjects and practices of military power, considering for example military memoirs (Woodward 2003; Woodward & Jenkings 2012, 2018), toys and video games (Martin & Steuter 2010; Woodyer 2012; Yarwood 2015), sport (Kelly 2012; Cree & Caddick forthcoming) and even food products (Tidy 2015). More recently, emerging work has begun to consider the creative and performing arts as lenses through which to explore militarised culture, including theatre (Basham & Bulmer forthcoming; Purnell & Danilova 2018), dance (Åhäll 2018), and music (Cree forthcoming; Baker forthcoming). This work gives texture to our understandings of the embodied and affective circulations of militarised cultures and ideas; as Leavy (2015) argues, “performance serves as a method for exposing what is otherwise impossible to reveal” (p175).

But, what can the creative arts and creative practice more broadly help to reveal, that we might struggle to approach otherwise? And how might we engage this creativity in our own research methodologies and practice? Victoria Basham & Sarah Bulmer tell us in their forward-thinking chapter in The Palgrave International Handbook of Gender and the Military (2017) that we must out of necessity think differently about what it means to practice critique in military studies, arguing that “[t]his recognition has profound implications for feminist praxis because it compels us to ask the question: What remains hidden if we fail to get closer to that which we critique?” (p68). The question that animates this forthcoming workshop is, then; how might a turn to creativity in military studies help us to get closer to that which we critique?

Theatre, dance, music, poetry, fiction, and fine art, among many other creative practices, have much to offer emerging research in critical military studies. This one-day workshop will bring together scholars and creative arts practitioners to explore what these methodologies can bring to our work. Some possible questions for consideration might include;

  • What can creative methods offer our understanding of military power and militarised cultures?
  • What constitutes ‘creative research’ in military studies?
  • What are some of the challenges of this type of work?

We invite expressions of interest in the following formats;

  • Abstracts for paper presentations (250 words).
  • Brief summaries of proposed activity (e.g performance, participatory activities, reading, screening) (250 words). Please include details of any specialist equipment or facilities required.

Please send all expressions of interest to by 5pm on 31st January 2019.

The Military, War and Security Research Group at Newcastle University have made some funds available for postgraduates and early career researchers wishing to attend, to go towards travel expenses. Please drop an email to if this is something you’d like to be considered for.