Tag Archives: Armed Forces Reserves

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 costs of maintaining a Reservist identity need full recognition

Over the last 4 years or so, a team of us have been doing a piece of research looking at how Reservists manage the task of being both a civilian employee and a Reservist. In the next couple of weeks or so, we will be mailing out to a number of Reserves units a short briefing document on the research, and a copy is also available here.

During the research, we did a large number of interviews with Army Reserve, Royal Naval Reserve, RAF Volunteer Reserve and Royal Marines Reserve participants. One of the really striking things across these interviews was the amount of time and effort that these personnel put into the work of both being a Reservist, and following their civilian career.

It was striking how many Reservists wanted to maintain quite a stark distinction between their identities as military personnel, and their identities as civilian employees. All our interviewees took great pride in their military participation, but sometimes found it hard to convey the detail of what they do, and why they do it, to their civilian colleagues. Efforts to do so were often met with bafflement, scepticism or humour. As a consequence many Reservists were reticent in discussing their military identities and Reserves participation when in the workplace, playing down or even concealing their membership of the Reserves.

This reality of Reservist life is interesting when put in the context of the Future Reserves 2020 plans when they were originally set out. These plans identified the expansion of the Reserves as a means of developing greater civilian awareness of the armed forces and defence. That wasn’t the primary purpose of the plans – but it is there in the documentation. For example, the original White Paper implied that the FR2020 plans might be one of a number of mechanisms that could be used by the then Coalition government to address what it saw as the widening disconnect between the military and civilian worlds. (There’s a lot more to say about civil-military relationships here, not least the history – going back to Options for Change – of political anxieties about this, the many ways in which this changing relationship has been visible or not, and the ways that binary thinking has obscured some more interesting ideas about this relationship – but I’ll save all that for another blog post.) These ideas about the role of the Reserves in developing civilian awareness seemed to contrast quite distinctly with what Reservists themselves told us, when they talked about the work they put into maintaining their identities as Reservists and how this might include silence or reticence about their service when talking with work colleagues.

It seemed to the research team that a more detailed appreciation about this identity work – and we use the word ‘work’ deliberately to reflect Reservists’ serious commitment – was needed by senior policy-makers. It may be the case that the demands of maintaining a Reservist identity are well recognised by senior individuals in the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces. After all, many of these people are themselves Reservists. But we wonder whether policy interventions and strategies on the Reserves reflect that understanding. The idea that you should know your people was one that came back to use, time and again, when we conducted the research interviews and read through the transcripts.

Understanding Reservists as members of the workforce and understanding the work they do, not just in terms of employment but also in terms of identity work, seems to be critical to addressing some of the tensions around Reservists in the workplace, and ultimately to the future sustainability of FR2020.

The ‘Keeping Enough in Reserve’ project was conducted by Rachel Woodward (Newcastle University), Antonia Dawes (University of Bristol), Tim Edmunds (University of Bristol), Paul Higate (University of Bath) and K. Neil Jenkings (Newcastle University.

Rachel Woodward