Masculinity and Violence in the British Military: Liberal Warriors and Haunted Soldiers

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Julia Welland

Abstract

Over the past decade British troops have been stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of what was previously called the 'war on terror'. During this period reports have emerged of British soldiers engaging in sexual abuse against local detainees, the killing of innocent Iraqi and Afghan civilians, and the use of banned techniques during interrogations. At the same time, widely televised repatriations of dead and injured soldiers have taken place, and a combination of the proliferation in use of improvised explosive devices by enemy forces and improvements in battlefield medicine has meant increasing numbers of soldiers are returning home with limbs missing and permanent disfigurement. It is unpacking how these specific acts of wartime violence have become possible that this thesis is concerned with. Specifically, this project will ask questions about the relation between contemporary constructions of British militarised masculinity - what I call a 'liberal warrior' - and the enactment of wartime violence. At its core, this thesis will argue that a liberal warrior subjectivity will never be stable or 'complete', and that it is in its precariousness and attempts at stabilisation that specific militarised violences become possible. Building on a burgeoning feminist literature on militarised masculinities and appropriating Avery Gordon's epistemology of ghosts and hauntings, I detail a way of conceptualising a militarised masculine liberal warrior that avoids mapping 'hard' and 'fixed' borders. Constituted through gendered discourses and hierarchical gendered binaries, boundaries are marked around a liberal warrior that excludes traits and characteristics a liberal warrior is not. However, those traits and characteristics that a liberal warrior has attempted to expel remain an integral constituting part of what is included, haunting the subjectivity, and destabilising its attempts at coherent representation. I argue it is through the appearances of ghosts - the concrete materialisation of an aspect of a haunting - that notice can be given to the ever-presence of hauntings. Focusing specifically on attempts at expelling - exorcising - hauntings of (homo)sexual potential, uncontrollability, colonial desires and fears, and the brutality of warfare in the (re)construction of a liberal warrior, the thesis pays attention to the materialisations of ghosts across multiple sites, including basic training, barrack living and during a tour of duty. Emerging as the banal and mundane, and also as spectacular wartime violence, recognising these materialisations as ghosts has several effects. It draws attention to the (im)possibility of a liberal warrior and always already haunting presences, it allows the conceptual space between everyday soldiering 'doings' and the spectacularly violent to be bridged, and it reveals the ways in which attempts at expelling hauntings and (re)articulating the borders of a liberal warrior makes these (sometimes violent) appearances of ghosts possible.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1 Aug 2014