Tag Archives: Militarism

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 alice.cree@newcastle.ac.uk 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  alice.cree@newcastle.ac.uk if this is something you’d like to be considered for.

On the links between sociology and the armed forces

I’ve been re-reading a bit of Squaddies recently, John Hockey’s ethnography of a British Army infantry unit.  It was first published in 1986, and is now something of a classic of military sociology.  It drew on John’s PhD fieldwork which involved a period of time living and working with a group of soldiers, something John was well qualified to do.  It’s still an essential reference for understanding military participation (check out the citations in Google Scholar), and an absorbing and informative account.  I was re-reading it having just reviewed a paper which was quoting it, and as often happens, I found myself carrying on reading after checking out the point I was after.  Proof, to me, of the enduring value of this book.

Above all else, Squaddies seems to me to provide clear validation for the argument that military forces and the defence community in general have much to gain from sociology and a sociological understanding of military forces.  There’s often a degree of antipathy within military and defence circles to the insights of sociological thinking on military matters.  So I’ve been told many times over the years, in discussions with people working within these circles, that certain arguments are somehow unreliable because of the methodologies used, particularly when the methods concerned sit at the qualitative end of the spectrum.  Or it’s been explained to me that much sociology is insufficiently ‘objective’, reflecting a mis-perception particularly of the more critical military sociological analyses that are out there, which are trying to examine military phenomena with reference to the political contexts in which they sit.

Yet I was struck when reading my Google news feed last week (set to deliver a round-up of news using alert terms like ‘British’ and ‘armed forces’) how the majority of news stories about British military forces are essentially about sociological issues.  Last week’s feed, for example, reported stories on obesity levels among military personnel (so about bodies and embodiment), suicide rates amongst former personnel (so about the sociology of trauma and mental health) and a stream of invective on a far right website in response to a Centre for Army Leadership piece about women’s military participation (so about gender and the structuring of social life).

I’m also frequently reminded – not least by John Hockey’s work – about the contributions to military sociology by academics who have a military background and who have used their thinking and training in social science in their interventions about military sociological phenomena.  John Hockey is a case in point, of course, and he reflects on this a little in his chapter in The Routledge Companion to Military Research Methods, as does David Walker.  I can think of a number of others similarly placed – Lauren Greenwood, Neil Jenkings, Patrick Bury, Ross McGarry, Anthony Forster, Godfrey Maringira, Ryerson Christie, Kevin Spruce, Hannah West – who even if they don’t describe themselves as sociologists, clearly (to me, at any rate) use their military experience to inform their academic social scientific research in ways that seem sociological.

I wonder if the UK is quite distinct in the ways that the defence and academic military research communities engage with each other (or don’t), and whether this explains at least some of the antipathy towards military sociology’s insights?  The North American context is quite different, with the ‘soldier-scholar’ model animating much work behind the IUS-AFS and the journal Armed Forces & Society.  In mainland Europe the practice of social scientists working within defence ministries, evident in the ERGOMAS meetings and the recently revived journal Res Militaris, mean that a very different military institutional view is possible of the benefits of sociological approaches to military issues.  In the UK, it seems that some kinds of social science – behavioural psychology, management studies – are considered useful for the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces.   The work of a few social scientists has had clear utility over time in shaping defence thinking (see for example Tony King’s work on military transformations or Tim Edmunds’ on security sector reform).  But beyond these examples, I often feel that we’re missing a trick here in the UK.

It’s the critical analyses, in particular, that have the most to offer.  Those labouring in the Ministry of Defence to respond to the Government latest anxieties about the armed forces / civil society disconnect, would surely have an easier time if they went through a few back-issues of Critical Military Studies to help with their thinking (even if they disagree with the analysis).  For those faced with unpicking the multiple problems caused by the outsourcing of military tasks and requirements, such as base maintenance or personnel recruitment, something like Swed and Crosbie’s The Sociology of Privatized Security might help.  Concerns about the fine lines between criminal acts and acts legitimated under rules of engagement call for insights on criminology and war.  The list is almost endless; the point is that sociological analyses (including, perhaps even particularly, those most critically engaged with military activities and phenomena) have enormous potential to inform the UK’s military and defence policy and practice.

Above all else, the idea persists with me that most military personnel are actually really good sociologists – and to return to the starting point, I think this is one reason why Squaddies is such a good book.  Military personnel live and work from a relatively young age in an institution, so social structures, organisations, hierarchies and institutional behaviours are thoroughly familiar, and they’re dealing with other people all the time, so identities, positionality, micro-politics and embodiment are routine, daily issues.  Sociology and the armed forces seem to fit together well.


Rachel Woodward

Invictus Games: Beyond the ‘Invictus Spirit’

On the 20th October 2018, the Invictus Games will be heading to Sydney, Australia for their fourth tournament. The usual #Invictus Twitter storm is already brewing, and with the appearance of the Games’ new hashtags such as #makeyourmarkdownunder alongside the usual #weareInvictus, I’ve been thinking again about the ‘spirit’ of the games.

According to the Invictus Games Foundation, the word ‘Invictus’ means “‘unconquered’; it embodies the fighting spirit of the wounded, injured and sick service personnel and what these tenacious men and women can achieve, post injury” (see the Invictus Games website here for more info). This is so much of what the Invictus Games is about, this overcoming of injury and trauma in a way that marks them as tenacious warriors. Harriet Gray (2015) has written some interesting stuff on the narratives of redemption at work here;

According to the Invictus Games website, the ‘wounded warriors’ who compete ‘have been tested and challenged, but they have not been overcome. They have proven that they cannot be defeated. They have the willpower to persevere and conquer new heights.’ The injured bodies of these servicemen are thus reinterpreted, and understood not as something which makes servicemen weak, but conversely as something which makes them strong through providing the opportunity for demonstration of their ability to overcome” (pp.13-14).

As Gray tells us, the Invictus Games provide the opportunity for the injured bodies of servicemen and women to be remade, and presented to the public as conquerors of their weakness. The men and women of the armed forces are thus not simply heroes, but warriors, not only because they have fought in wars, but because they have fought to overcome the physical and mental impairments that these wars have inflicted upon them.

But there is something troubling to me about this. Is there a violence at work in remaking the horrors of war as an opportunity to ‘overcome’? What do we lose in our understanding of war and trauma when we display the wounded bodies of servicemen and women in this way? HRH The Duke of Sussex, patron of the Games, said in his rousing speech at the closing ceremony of the 2016 Orlando Games that;

What could explain the remarkable sportsmanship of Mark Urquart in sacrificing gold on the track to push Stephen Simmons into first place? Invictus!

How else could I describe the way I felt seeing Tim Payne, a man I met three years ago to the day, in his hospital bed at Walter Reed, beaming as he wore his gold medal round his neck? Invictus!

What defines the spirit of Denmark’s Jonas Andersen, who loaded the coffin of his friend onto the flight which changed my life in 2008, and then fought through his own dark days to compete in London and Orlando? Invictus!”

He then goes on to say

“You are all Invictus. You are now ambassadors for the spirit of these games. Spread the word. Never stop fighting. And do all you can to lift up everyone around you

(Invictus Games Orlando 2016 closing ceremony – you can read the full transcript here).

There is clearly something very powerful about such calls to action. Harry tells us that we are “all Invictus… Spread the word. Never stop fighting”; thus, we are all implicated in spreading the Invictus spirit. But what does the glorifying of the ‘Invictus spirit’ do for those who cannot or choose not to overcome? This is a question I come back to again and again when thinking about the role of the Invictus Games in shaping how we come to view and understand wounded veterans.

There is of course nothing inherently bad about the Invictus Games, and the work that the Foundation does to help wounded servicemen and women. The recovery from trauma and injury in the military is and should be a central concern of the state, and organisations such as the Invictus Games Foundation clearly have a role to play in this. There is also nothing inherently wrong with, as the Duke of Sussex says, being ‘ambassadors for the spirit of these games’. If the Invictus spirit is characterized by a renewed tenacity for life, a drive to overcome injuries and psychological traumas that might very well have broken you, then how can we critique that? Why would we want to?

And yet, there is something troubling to me about the way that wounded military bodies are displayed through the games, and claimed as national competitors. It seems to me that the lived experiences of wounded veterans are very much sidelined, or even erased in favour of a more positive ‘heroic’ representation. I can’t help but be reminded of Gareth Malone’s 2016 Invictus Choir, a two-part mini-series in which Malone works with a choir made up of physically and psychologically wounded servicemen, women, and veterans towards a performance at the 2016 Orlando Invictus Games. This of course was the first year that mental trauma was incorporated into the representation of wounded servicemen and women in the Games in any real way. In the programme’s two episodes, Malone echoes the ethos of the wider Games by telling choir members that their goal is to “inspire the world with your voices, what you’ve been through, and what you’re doing now” (Invictus Choir, Episode 1). The choir actively seeks to shed light on the emotional and physical trauma of war, but largely as a means of providing a compelling and entertaining story to viewers. Viewers are invited to spectate upon these men and women, revel in their pain, but importantly follow the story to its conclusion in the form of their final performance in Orlando. But what happens after that? The audience are given a sense of closure, a warm fuzzy feeling that everything was alright in the end, but that isn’t the end of the story. And, just because we are afforded the opportunity to watch wounded servicemen and women achieve something remarkable in the face of inconceivable adversity, this does not mean that we should close our eyes to the bigger picture.

Some of the material for this blog post has been taken from my doctoral thesis, which you can access here if you’d like to read more.

Alice Cree





Cree ASJ. (2018) The Hero, The Monster, The Wife: Geographies of Remaking and Reclaiming the Contemporary Military Hero. Ethesis available here. Accessed 18/09/18.

Gray H. (2015) The Trauma Risk Management approach to posttraumatic stress disorder in the British military: masculinity, biopolitics and depoliticisation. Feminist Review. 111(1): 109-123. Available here.

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

‘Line of Sight’: Art Sessions at Forward Assist

Last month we started ‘Line of Sight’, an art project at Forward Assist veteran’s charity in Newcastle. The project is funded by National Lottery Awards for All and is inspired by a conversation with Forward Assist about veteran’s experience and the range card. The range card is used by all branches of the military to direct live fire, either from artillery, portable firearms such as machine gun or mortars, or weapons delivered by aircraft. Yet beyond the battlefield it seemed the range card was helping some veterans to transition into the seemingly uncertain environment of civvy street, by being a emblem of certainty.

This brought to mind art historical work about spatiality in Dutch Landscape painting from the 17th Century being a direct result of innovations in targeting advanced artillery, with the task of targeting the canons falling to the royal artists and geographers. Other academic work has demonstrated that artist throughout history have also been active participants in battlefields by collecting data and intelligence on bridging points, fortifications and landscape features. Innovations such as oil paint in metal tubes that helped the emergence of outdoor painting, were also seen as a threat to combat forces on the battlefield of the Franco Prussian War by being manoeuvrable and easily concealed . Many of these battlefields were captured by the Impressionist painters such as Monet, Degas and Renoir with several of these works being seen, by military of the time, as being operational objects.

So there seemed to be a great opportunity for an art class based on artistic and military seeing with an aim to aid veteran to move from the regimented but predictable structure of military life, to the less certain and arbitrariness of everyday. The first class was held in the mid August and after a pause for the bank holiday resumed last night. Straight away the veterans got to work decoding landscape paintings by Renoir or van Ruisdael identifying areas of risk areas, or tactical advantage. For example  a Renoir cornfield presented a risk to infantry that could be mitigated by an air bursting artillery barrage over a distant village and large amounts of smoke across the fields depending on the wind direction. The dips and contours of what had been a flat landscape became very apparent while problems of spatial depth became a matter of using the same skills as ranging firearms.

Perspective drawing and spatiality can be tricky skills to teach. However, it seemed even in the first art class that these are tacit abilities taught through military training, which the veterans have brought to the art session and re-applied into landscape painting. What had seemed like a novel notion of combining art history with veteran’s experience of landscape has suddenly became embodied and actual.

Michael Mulvihill

Recruiting the new intake – the OTC, UAS and URNU on campus

The new academic year is about to start, Newcastle University’s campus will soon fill with people advertising student events, organisations and activities, and my thoughts turn again to that old chestnut, recruitment to the university armed service units (USUs) on university campuses.  It’s an interesting one to ponder, not least because of the diversity of views this generates.

The university armed service units – the Officer Training Corps (OTC), the University Air Squadrons (UAS) and the University Royal Naval Units (URNU) – are open only to university students.  University campuses are an obvious place for these organisations to recruit.  The fact of this happening elicits some fairly divergent opinions.  For some, this is no big deal.  For some, the unit activities on campus are a fabulous opportunity for people to consider joining an organisation they otherwise wouldn’t know about.  For some, recruitment to the units is a practice which should have no place on a university campus.

We did some research on the USUs a few years back, and one of the things we found (we did a survey of current participants across all the units) was the high a proportion of students for whom Freshers’ Week activities were a key source of primary information about the units.  In fact, it was the single most important source of information identified by people, looking back on their experience of joining.  There were of course participants who arrived at university with prior knowledge of the existence of these units, usually from family, friends and cadets, for example.  But for a significant proportion (about 30% overall) Freshers’ events were the primary source of information.

The gender split on this was also revealing.  For example:

  • For the OTC, 31% of women said Freshers’ events were significant, compared with 26% of men.
  • For the URNU, 48% of women said Freshers’ events were significant, compared with 26% of the men surveyed.
  • For the UAS, 30% of women said Freshers’ events were significant, compared with 18% of the men.

We thought then, and I am reminded of this again this year, that there is a fairly basic argument about equality of access to opportunities at play here, which the discussion about ‘recruitment on campus’ often overlooks.

This is not to say that USU recruitment practices and their effects are, across the board, exemplary strategies for encouraging diversity in the armed forces.  The picture is a whole lot more complex than that, not least because of the differential presence and reach of the units across the university sector.  To put this simply (if crudely), the logics of the history and geography of higher education in the UK mean that the dominance of Russell Group universities echoes across the USUs, their recruitment and existence, and the USUs may be absent entirely or only vaguely visible in many of the post-1992 institutions.  Our research did not explicitly look at differential access, whether in terms of class, ethnicity or other markers of social identity or difference.  But, I wonder whether there might be some use in a piece of research which looks in more detail than we were able to, at differential access to the units, and the way that this socially structured?

This would make a very good dissertation project for a USU-participating social science, sociology or geography student, at any rate.

Rachel Woodward


The research referred to above was conducted by Alison Williams, Neil Jenkings and Rachel Woodward, Newcastle University.

You can read The Value of the University Armed Service Units (the full book of the research findings) for free here.

We also published a paper in Political Geography on the connections between the universities and the military in the UK, available for free download here.

‘Army at the Fringe’ returns for another year

The lived experiences of Army life, past and present, will be brought to the Edinburgh Fringe stage for another year following the success of the ‘Army at the Fringe’ 2017 debut. Of ‘The Troth’, one of the shows taking place at the Hepburn House Drill Hall Army Reserve Centre during the city’s festival season, Mira Kaushik said;

“It’s a story about soldiers, so it’s relevant any time. It’s a human story, it’s a very accessible story. So, it’s all about emotions of the boys who leave home, who go to all sorts of conditions which they are not familiar to” (Forces News 2018).

The presence of military theatre at the Fringe appears as part of a much wider trend. The narratives of military personnel and their families are stories of great public interest, and are increasingly emerging in civil society as dramatic productions for public consumption (see Cree 2018). More broadly, this is further evidence that “the literature of war is increasingly escaping from between the covers of books and engaging directly with a wider popular culture of war as entertainment” (Woodward & Jenkings 2012; see also Cree 2018).


Cree A. (2018) The Hero, The Monster, The Wife: Geographies of Remaking and Reclaiming the Contemporary Military Hero. Avaiable at http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/12561/1/Thesis_Alice_Cree_with_corrections_(1).pdf?DDD14+. Accessed 16/08/18.

Woodward R and Jenkings NK. (2012) Military memoirs, their covers and the reproduction of public narratives of war. Journal of War & Culture Studies. 5(3): 349-369.

Forces News. (2018) Army Fringe Returns for Another Year. Available at https://www.forces.net/news/army-fringe-returns-another-year. Accessed 16/08/18.


Welcome to Military Research at Newcastle!

Hello! Welcome to the Military Research at Newcastle University blog. We’ll be using this space to blog about some of the interesting work we are doing here, as well as some commentary pieces on current armed forces news and other relevant issues.


Professor Rachel Woodward

Rachel is a Professor in Human Geography in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology. Her research interests focus broadly on military geographies, including military land use, military landscapes and post-military landscapes, military environmentalism, militarism and space/place, base conversion issues.

Other areas of interest:

Gender and identity; Military representation in photography and print media, and contemporary military memoirs; Reserve armed forces, and University Armed Service Units

Dr Alice Cree

Alice 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).

Other areas of interest: Veteran transition and recovery; War and popular culture; Military families; Conscientious objection.