Each month we'll bring you new blog posts written by academics, experts, practitioners, and our very own membership and committee. Blog posts will explore different topics each month, challenging you with new and exciting research areas, encourage engagement with a range of personal research experiences, and present new perspectives on established military topics and issues.
Reflections from academics interested in military spouses and partners
On the 10th June 2021 members of our Rethinking Military Spouses: Critical Research Group met to discuss what critical research means to us, and our work on and with military spouses. By reflecting on the insightful article 'What is Critical Military Studies' by Victoria Basham, Aaron Belkin and Jess Gifkins, we considered the challenges that we had encountered and navigated whilst conducting critical research. Through our discussions we found that each of us thinks about criticality in different ways which has different implications for our research approaches and anticipated outcomes. In this short blog you can read some of our members’ reflections on their academic and personal experiences – starting to highlight the continuum of criticality upon which we are positioned.
Dr Lauren Godier-McBard: Criticality is something that I have considered a lot recently and this has been the subject of several discussions with colleagues in our research institute. I don’t pretend to be an expert in critical military research, my work is very much focused on understanding and promoting the health and well-being of the military and veteran community, particularly in regard to women. However, I have found that this requires a level of criticality when examining the military institution, and the impact it has on the well-being of these communities. Despite this, I have found it difficult to position myself in regard to criticality in the work that I do. I think for me, the main barrier to this has been balancing the needs of those funding or commissioning research, and the need to exercise a level of criticality in conducting research in a way that might be uncomfortable for the funders, or organisations being studied. This is made more complex still by two significant academic pressures: 1) Funding, and 2) Impact. Firstly, the pressure that we feel as academics to consistently obtain funding, which is incredibly competitive, is significant. The majority of the funding that I have been awarded or that has funded the projects I have worked on, comes from military and veteran organisations, and these organisations often have very specific ideas about what they want from that research. I often find myself tailoring grant applications to meet the strategic aims of the funder, rather than purely for the benefit of the population under study or society more generally. Secondly, we are required as research staff in academic institutions to evidence the real-world, tangible impact of our research, as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), something that all research staff must contribute to. Furthermore, there is often a need to weave plans for achieving this impact into funding applications, to assure funders that the work they fund will be of some benefit to their organisation, as well as the beneficiary population being studied. These pressures lead to a difficult balancing act, retaining the level of criticality we need in order to interrogate how the structures and processes of the military impact on the lives of service personnel, veterans and their families, with the needs of our funders. After all, these funding organisations are often those that can make tangible changes that impact the beneficiary populations, and provide the evidence of this impact that we need as academics need to contribute to the REF.
Hannah West: Through my research with servicewomen and military partners, I have tentatively explored and gradually become more confident in my critical feminist intervention but it is something I have had to grapple with at a personal level, given my background. I married a submariner but I have never really identified as a military partner, in part because our wedding was my husband’s last day in uniform, although it wasn’t mine. I still think of myself as ex-military before being a military partner. So, I was nervous to meet the military partners participating in our research project because I recalled the, sometimes, uneasy relationship between servicewomen and military wives especially pre-deployment when I would be due to spend months at sea working with their husbands. Being both an insider as a fellow military partner but an outsider as ex-military and a critical scholar, I speak a lexicon that enables access not afforded to all but also brings a set of assumptions about myself, based on my former service, to be navigated. This positionality and previous research on servicewomen as combatants, has encouraged me to question assumptions of homogeneity about military partners and the extent of their militarisation. Speaking to the military partners involved in our project and hearing them share the very different ways in which they experience war and the military has helped me to see the military in new ways and critically challenge some of the assumptions I came to the project with. In reaching out to military partners I also began to feel increasingly strongly about hearing the voices of male military partners who are similarly insiders and outsiders to the military partner community. Critical research with military partners, helps to give a platform to their voices, raising important questions about how we know war, undermining the gendered knowledge production. Re-engaging with the military community has been personal and, at times, an uncomfortable encounter, however, I remain committed to both direct but critical engagement with the military as a means of challenging military power.
Dr Alice Cree: To me, Critical Military Studies (CMS) is about exploring the weird, messy, contradictory, illogical, insidious ways in which military power functions and is practiced. Research in CMS should be concerned with making military power strange and not making sense of it; as Victoria Basham and Sarah Bulmer (2017) tell us, “military power often makes little sense” (p.62, emphasis in original). In my work I’m interested in thinking through this ‘senselessness’ by looking at particular kinds of (gendered) figures that both perform military power and resist it – and this includes military spouses. In that respect, I would very much say I am a ‘critical’ researcher. But, I also feel that participatory and creative approaches with military communities have a lot of value for critical research. I have never really identified with the idea that critical military scholarship can only happen at a distance; to take that view that would be to presuppose that those people who make up military institutions are not critical subjects with the capacity for agency. As part of the ‘Conflict, Intimacy and Military Wives’ project, we have been using participatory theatre with military partners to explore some of the entanglements of military participation and conflict with home life and personal relationships. I think that this methodological approach in part offers a way of getting closer to exploring the messiness of military subjectivities, by identifying participants as critical subjects from the outset. But doing participatory research with this community does raise subsequent challenges in terms of ‘criticality’. How, for example, do you generate meaningful impact from participatory CMS research that will make a difference to participants’ lives without in some way aligning yourself with the military institution? At an even more basic level, how do you explain your research to prospective participants in a way that is at once open, honest, ethical, and not off-putting? That place where CMS research and participatory, feminist, and creative methodologies meet is precisely where I position my work – but, that point of intersection is also a point of friction.
Dr Emma Long: My becoming a critical researcher has been an academic and personal journey. When I embarked upon my PhD – exploring the experiences of non-serving partners when their serving partner returns from combat-related deployment – I had expected to identify gaps in support provided by the military which would lead to me offering a host of recommendations for improvement. My interest was driven by my experiences of my serving parent’s regular deployments and the adjustments we made as a family to settle into our new, yet temporary, normal. I’m grateful that our reintegrations were fairly unproblematic, and I wanted to hear from others in order to develop a fuller picture of what the reintegration experiences were for UK military families. When it came to analysing my interview data, I found that simply outlining the themes that arose, and developing recommendations based upon these, was not doing the research justice. I discovered Critical Military Studies in the final year of my PhD and found that this way of thinking about military power and partners’ entanglement with it really resonated with my data. It gave my research a language I didn’t know it needed! At a similar time, my long-term partner joined the Royal Navy and I found that through these encounters, I also started to personally identify with many of the accounts written by critical scholars. This encouraged me to look at my data afresh and I wrote my thesis, leaning much more into critical discussion than I would have ever imagined at the outset. I am now in the final stages of my Postdoctoral Fellowship where I am working to consolidate my PhD findings. I have developed a deeply uneasy relationship with making policy recommendations because I have started to understand the welfare programme as a form of power through which partners’ labour is subjected to normative discourse. However, I am also acutely aware that there are ethical problems with interviewing a population and then not doing something to try and make things a little better for them. This is a difficult tension to unpick in terms of the implications of my research, duty to participants, personal relationship with the military institution, and my own familial identities.
Conclusions: These brief reflections from four of our research group members show some of the various ways in which criticality is experienced and understood by us whilst conducting research on and with military spouses and partners. Through further engagement with each other and our other group members, we will continue to reflect on the implications that criticality has upon our work – not least those implications relating to research design, methodological approaches, funding opportunities, and pursuing meaningful impact. If you are interested in hearing more please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected]
We also recommend the following articles:
Basham V., Belkin A. & Gifkins J. (2015) What is Critical Military Studies? Critical Military Studies, DOI: 10.1080/23337486.2015.1006879
Basham V. & Bulmer S. (2017) Critical Military Studies as Method: An Approach to Studying Gender and the Military. In R. Woodward & C. Duncanson (eds). Palgrave International Handbook of Gender and the Military, Palgrave Macmillan: pp. 59-72.
West H. & Antrobus S. (2021) ‘Deeply odd’: women veterans as critical feminist scholars. Critical Military Studies, DOI: 10.1080/23337486.2021.1907020
Problematic quick fixes for Africa's (Counter)Insurgencies
The persistence, growing violence and sophistication of terrorist attacks in African insurgencies have prompted debates whether the continent will overtake the Middle East and become next “theatre of violent jihad”. The latest Global Terrorism Index report seem to confirm analysts’ worries. While the total number of deaths from terrorism declined for the fifth consecutive year in 2019 and the level of terrorist activity has fallen in the Middle East and South-East Asia, new Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) affiliate groups keep emerging in sub-Saharan Africa. Six out of the ten countries that accounted for 80 per cent of deaths from terrorism in 2019 are on the African continent: Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique.
Various underlying factors mutually reinforcing each other enable conflicts on the continent: criminal gangs and violent extremist networks capitalise on a deteriorating socio-economic environment, long-term local divisions and absent and/or abusive state institutions. Consequently, although engaging on a much lower scale compared to the previous extensive deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the continent has seen in the past decades a growing international military presence and higher amounts of development aid allocated.
The way foreign actors seek to tackle the threats and stabilise African regions varies. For example, the international security presence in the Sahel includes a the UN peacekeeping mission(MINUSMA), a US Africa Command (AFRICOM) drone base, three European Union (EU) missions, a large French-led counter-terrorist operation (Barkhane), and the creation of a new Special Forces Joint Task Force. In countries such as Nigeria, the presence remains mostly limited to train, advise, assist missions despite the country being constantly in the top 10 countries affected by terrorism in the past decade.
Development and military aid seek to “fix” the African post-Cold War fragility and to support counterinsurgency (COIN) operations, which remain problematic for ‘top-heavy’ state militaries facing insurgents better-positioned to excel at ‘bottom-up’ warfare. The Nigerian military, for example, is required to unlearn decades of traditional thinking and to disregard the utility of force and its operational benefits from past experiences such as ECOMOG to end the civil war in Liberia (1989-96). Forces are therefore left underprepared and underequipped to face a threat operating in a vast area, blended in with millions of civilians and sometimes with better weapons.
As many have acknowledged, there are no quick fixes and the ones that are applied, are problematic. American train-advise-assist operations and programmes such as the 2002 Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI), the 2005 Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Program (TSCTP) and subsequent AFRICOM engagements have received over the years much criticism. For example, Malan argues that although these initiatives aim to lower insecurity in the region, for the majority of the African population, the “post 9/11 security environment” did not differentiate much from previous decades marked by instability and acts of violence perpetrated by both governments and rebel forces. Research has also problematised the state-centric counterterrorism focus, fluctuation of funds, disproportionate number of troops and lack of comprehensive integrated strategies and common mechanisms for measuring outcomes. Bergamaschi has found that “voluntarily or otherwise” development and military aid has contributed in the case of Mali to the widening of structural in inequalities between north and south, creating the perfect ‘fragility storm’ pre-2012&2020 military coups and expansion of violent extremism.
The situation in Mali, the Sahel and in other regions of the continent demonstrates the challenges of countering today’s insurgencies. These range from equipment, tactical training, level of military professionalisation, to multiple, often competing and contrasting aims and different levels of political will. It is clear that these complex conflicts require more than just strong borders, and careful consideration needs to be given in the future to the way that both military and development solutions contribute to both short- and long-term local dynamics.
Sorina Toltica, University of Portsmouth, School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature.
Year in Review: New Years Resolutions
We asked members of the DRN committee to look back over 2020 and tell us about their highlight of the year and any New Years resolutions they have for 2021!
Emily's highlight of 2020 was presenting at the International Feminist Journal of Politics' Conference 'Subversions and Solidarities through Feminist Collaborations and Crossings' at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, on March 6th and 7th.
"Although it seems like a decade ago now - just weeks before we were locked down in the UK - I have tried to carry the enthusiasm and positivity I felt during those two days with me through the rollercoaster of this pandemic.
It was amazing to see how academic collaboration and solidarity were being fostered over emails, video conferences, and pre-recorded presentations even in those early and most uncertain stages of COVID-19. The value of that time together only grew as the lockdowns stretched across 2020, reminding me that friends and mentors are there even when we can't see them.As with most events in 2021, this year's IFJP Conference is going virtual. Scheduled to take place on the 17th-20th February, the conference is aptly themed 'feminist connections in global politics'. Although the deadline for submissions has passed, I would strongly encourage any feminist academics to sign up. Register before January 15th for early-bird pricing! Find out more and register here."
Sally has recommended the brilliant book 'TRIBE- On Homecoming and Belonging' by Sebastian Junger, published by 4thEstate.co.uk.
"In the words of the Sunday Times review- Tribe is ‘ fascinating, insightful and built on real and difficult experiences’. and, as the Guardian review asks- ‘rather than asking how we can save our returning servicemen and women. Junger challenges us to take a hard look in the mirror and ask whether we can save ourselves’.
Personally, I found this book compelling. It struck a chord with my research on veterans mental health conducted as part of a Churchill Fellowship. Sebastian’s thoughts concur with my findings and a central theme of a loss of identity for military personnel when transitioning from a military to civilian community. While TRIBE focuses on the challenges of returning home from war, there are many parallels on the challenges for some, on leaving service life and transitioning successfully into civilian employment, society and community.
Hannah has been reflecting on what she has learnt over the course of her PhD studies as the end is approaching. She led a session with her PhD cohort at the University of Bath to share ‘what we wish we’d known’ and has put together a summary which she hopes this will be of interest to the wider DRN community.
"I think it is easy to underestimate what has been lost in the move to isolated home working in terms of chatting to our peers over a coffee in the office or in the margins of face to face conferences. I was fascinated in chatting to colleagues about our different working routines from periods of intensity followed by total breaks or very structured programmes and came to realise that we all have different approaches and different PhDs but will get to the same end.I learnt a lot about publishing this year, from the disappointment of my first article being rejected followed by its later acceptance in a different journal. I read somewhere that all writing, even single author, is collaborative and that it is the feedback from journal reviewers, peers and supervisors that develops an article and this realisation has been really reassuring to me this year and helped me to see the feedback differently."
Lee's highlight was attending the Veterans’ Mental Health Conference 2020: Bridging the Gap at King's College London on the 12th March.
"I was fortunate to have my research poster accepted to display at Kings College. There was a great turnout and I was able to network with other academics, charities and policymakers.The opening keynote was given by Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence, People and Veterans. It was great to witness what is being done to improve the mental health of veterans and reduce the stigma associated with poor mental health. The conference continued with presentations from leading academics on an array of different topics. I feel very lucky to have been able to attend the conference and I learnt a great deal."
Veronika has shared with us both her professional and personal resolutions for 2021.
"My professional highlight of 2020 was getting a permanent position in academia; I am a Teaching Fellow at the University of Portsmouth, based at RAF Halton. Getting a permanent position wasn’t easy, it was very stressful (and halfway through the pandemic too!) but I’m incredibly happy that I got there in the end.It also involved a move from Lincolnshire to Buckinghamshire and saying goodbye to my wonderful colleagues at the RAF College Cranwell. On the bright side, I’ve got to meet new, wonderful people in my new job.
My professional resolution is to publish more, and also to become a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. My personal resolution is to read all the books by Stephen King I haven’t read yet (I’ve read over two dozen so far)."
What we wish we’d known
I really remember starting out on my PhD in a shared office and, although I was only on campus once a week, the conversations I had with second and third year PGRs were a helpful insight into what I was aiming for and how to overcome some of the barriers that lay along the way. Seeing those in the writing up stage felt like such a distant hope but now as I write this approaching submission of my own thesis it feels increasingly likely that I’m going to get there!
This blog captures some of my thoughts about what I wish I’d known when I started my studies as an attempt to make up for not having the office environment to share this with our new cohort of PhD students in the Department of Social and Policy Science at the University of Bath, but I hope it will be useful to the wider DRN community too. It started out as notes for an online forum I am really grateful to David Young, Alice Chadwick, Maike Klein, Andrew Johnstone, Elise Reslinger and Clare Hawkes for their input to the session which has been added to the advice below. The things that came up time and again as we chatted across the year groups was not to judge yourself by other people’s work whether they are established academics or your peers, we are all doing different studies and work in different ways, it isn’t helpful. And don’t worry about this list of advice either, maybe some will work for you and maybe some won’t, we are just putting it out there so you know what has worked for us.
· Find out what works for you and don’t worry about other people’s routines. Maybe you work intensely long days and nights for a period of weeks and then find you need a total break for a period of time. You may find a more systematic pattern of working for an hour and then having a half hour break with a structured plan of what you want to achieve each day or week is effective. Or you may have your hours constrained by caring responsibilities, and split your work around these patterns. You don’t have to be working 9 to 5, everyone does it differently so don’t judge yourself against other’s patterns.
· For me, producing a ‘PhD on a page’ which broke down what I had to do into chunks of a month – reading, writings, then submit to supervisors and have supervision whilst starting on the reading for the next month – worked really well, especially in the first year. But keep it flexible and update it when you realise there are different themes you need to explore.
· Again, this will be different depending on your type of study so try not to judge yourself against your peers. Some will write early or with their supervisors and others the publishable writing will be ready nearer the end or after the PhD. For me, I felt like I should be submitting things mid way through but I am glad my supervisors discouraged me because I needed to give myself time for personal reflection to enable my argument to come so I am now glad I did not do this too early.
· Try co-writing with a peer -it breaks up the isolation of PhD studies and is much more fun. You get to know your fellow author much better and can bounce ideas of each other as well as bring different disciplinary perspectives.
· Don’t be disheartened if articles are not accepted first time, try to see it as a collaborative process whereby nothing is really ever written by a single author, and everyone - no matter how senior – relies on feedback to shape their writing. If you can get involved in any editing this will give you extra insight but having been daunted by the idea of major or minor revisions, I have come to see how constructive this can be.
· I have been lucky to have great supervisors but know other people really struggle with supervisor relationships. I recommend trying to record in some way what you are talking about (for example set an agenda and share a few bullet points with supervisors afterwards to record what you decided). You may want to consider recording your supervisions to refer back to.
· Try and find some other academics who will offer you some support and guidance too, outside your supervisors. It is useful to find someone senior but also someone who is only a year or so on from their PhD as they will both have valuable perspectives.
· Allow time for editing and referencing at the end and don’t underestimate how long this can take. For example, just checking all the hyperlinks you have accumulated on the way are still working can take a long time.
· If you are struggling to get the writing flowing, try some free writing (just write on a subject without referencing and see where it takes you). This can help you get things off your chest and help you formulate an argument or find your voice.
· Have a system for managing your reading – I use Mendeley – so that you can keep a track of notes, what you have read and as a starting point for referencing later.
· Work out why you are reading it and write that down: do you want to get a sense of it, look for a particular concept or are you trying to understand every aspect of the argument. These are very different and need different amounts of time.
· Don’t feel guilty: you can’t read everything.
· Late on in the PhD you will need to work out exactly where your research fits and what literature it contributes to but it won’t be the literature you are expecting from the beginning, so expect to revisit it and move into new sets of literature.
· Don’t forget that people really want to help you, so ask them. You would help if someone asked you so why wouldn’t they help you. Worst that can happen is that they will say they are too busy right now.
· Look for networks of people working in similar areas, if there isn’t one, make one it will be worth it. I have got so much from setting up the Defence Research Network with a group of others who have become great friends (and co-writers!).
· Twitter is great for networking, you can limit yourself to professional use but you will be amazed how many conferences, articles, events you find out about that you could easily miss otherwise.
- Take up opportunities to engage with other organisations and people who are interested in your area for example attending practitioner focused conferences and through doing research placements.
· Know who you can turn to, whether it is supervisors, friends, peers, or more professional university services.
· Think about how you want to share your research. Could you set up your own simple website (simpler than you think and you’ll pick up a lot of transferable skills on the way) or Twitter profile. Even just a one page site which you can include on a business card means people can look you up and find out more. Is there a website which could host some information about your research?
· This is a great way to get your research out there, raise your profile, maybe secure some funding. It may be another thing that seems like an added pressure but can actually help shape your research design or help you convey your argument. You might find yourself coming back to this when you write up.
· Have a go at producing a short film or podcast, a great way to talk informally about yoru research and good preparation for your viva.
· I’d recommend doing this from an early stage, whether PG conferences or Twitter conferences through to big international ones. Apply and go for it: it’s a great way to help you prepare chapters, articles, give them a test and get some feedback, and it forces your timescales. Before you know it you will have several conference presentations and be adapting them all into articles/chapters.
· Be flexible to your project changing, especially during fieldwork, it is normal to feel lost in the middle of your study but keep going and you will come out of the other side.
· Feelings of not being good enough are totally normal and everyone has them.
· It’s not helpful to negatively compare your work to the publications of experienced academics. Firstly, because you're not comparing like with like until you have that much experience and secondly, writing an article and getting it published usually takes ages and so that work has been through loads of edits and had loads of feedback from other experienced people. This applies to presentations too. The way experienced academics effortlessly think and communicate complex ideas in a simple way can mask the hours and hours and hours that they have spent thinking about their research area.
· It is normal to have no sense if you are any good all of the way through!
· If you suffer personal disruption for any reason, give yourself time to get back on track, it is amazing how quickly you can loose your sense of where you were in the study so take it gradually picking up the pieces and moving forward.
· Good to get some experience if you can. It might seem nerve-racking, but course convenors have been really reassuring.
· Take student feedback with a pinch of salt and talk it through with course convenors. What they write can seem brutal but it needs perspective so talk to others about their experiences of feedback. And try to shape the feedback by encouraging students to complete it (so you get a good balance of participation) and asking for your own feedback early (for example with start-stop-continue exercise).
· Start early especially if you need external approval as well.
· See it as a tool to designing your research, going through all the questions can help you shape the detail of your study so it is helpful.
· Think about yourself as a researcher in this – how will you be affected by your research and how can you help yourself.
· Brainstorm questions – theoretical, empirical, methodological, implications. Where might the weaknesses be?
· What linkages can be made?
· Know your thesis – reduce to its main points.
Review: Adventures in Aeronautical Design: The Life of Hilda M. Lyon by Nina Baker, reviewed by Hannah West
The aircraft control systems familiar to today’s aircrew and engineers contain anti-phugoid software based, in part, on Hilda Lyon’s research on longitudinal dynamic stability. Her ‘Lyon shape’ for submarine hull design has influenced US submarine design from the 1950s onwards. Had Hilda Lyon’s life not been cut short at the age of 50 by an operation in 1946, she would surely have gone on to pioneer even greater innovations in aeroelasticity and aircraft stability. And yet, as a female former naval air engineer myself, I had never heard of Hilda Lyon and am consequently grateful to Nina Baker for this concise and thorough chronology of her life.
The book opens with her upbringing in Market Weighton, East Yorkshire revealing a childhood curiosity that was so apparent even in her early education. In documenting Hilda’s career path, the reader gets a real sense of how her knowledge and experience accumulates, as she moves between organisations and projects. Even her work on the, subsequently scrapped, R101 airship became one of her most cited pieces of research and offered this mathematician the chance to pick up some much-needed practical skills. Surrounded by engineers she recalls how she ‘learnt to understand and speak the engineering language, though doubtless with a strong mathematical accent’ (p.10).
The shadow of both world wars hung over her career as the loss of male mathematicians and scientists in the Great War most likely the driving factor for her employment in the ‘RAE [Royal Aircraft Establishment] alongside ‘many high-calibre women in its civil service research staff’ (p.35). And the award of a Mary Ewart scholarship enabled Hilda to spend a year researching in Gottingen, Germany in 1933, during increasingly tense times as the Nazis were on the rise, and subsequently returning in 1945 as one of the technical experts sent to find out about German aeronautical research and practice.
In chronicling this important but forgotten history, Nina Baker gives a real sense of how the book was researched, explaining where certain archives, records and anecdotes were encountered which adds a charming connection with the author which will be both appealing and encouraging to fellow archivists and historians. Above all, her inclusion of Hilda Lyon’s voice, whether through the words of her 1944 speech to the Women’s Engineering Society (included in full and alongside a list of her publications as an appendix) or even simply the images of her thesis title page or report sketches and graphs, enliven the memory of pioneering Hilda.
Veterans and Families Research hub blog post by Clare Lee: Beyond Risk and Resilience: A multimodal approach to researching with children from armed forces families.
We are pleased that Clare Lee, a former DRN committee member and alumni, has had her research published by the VFR hub.
Children with a parent, step-parent or parents serving in the British armed forces are often considered as a single cohort, and either in terms of risk or of resilience (e.g. NATO, 2019; Ofsted, 2011; Rowe et al., 2014). A desire to draw long-overdue attention to service children’s welfare, or a desire to address children’s problems because these “ultimately, affect the operational readiness of the serving member” (NATO, 2019, p. ES-1), leads some researchers and stakeholders to focus on service children as at risk of a variety of emotional, social, educational or behavioural problems (e.g. Fear et al., 2018; Thandi et al., 2017). Others take a different view and emphasise service children’s resilience, often to resist a negative framing of the children, but sometimes to deflect criticism about policies that work against children’s interests, or even to evade the responsibility for making changes (McCullouch et al., 2018).
Read the full blog post.
Defence in Depth blog post by Hannah West: Nightingale's Legacy: Women on the COVID 'Frontline'.
We are pleased that the DRN's Chair, Hannah West, has had her blog published in the Kings Defence in Depth blog.
Coronavirus is not only a disease but a human security threat. We are used to seeing the, predominantly male, Armed Forces deploy in response to a conventional security threat. But, the NHS frontline is disproportionately manned by women. Nurses symbolise the frontline of the medical profession in their hands-on capacity caring for patients and whilst not all nurses responding to the pandemic are women, it remains the case that in the public consciousness, the stereotype of a nurse is a woman. The accepted presence of women nurses on the coronavirus frontline, ignores the unprecedented feminised response to this security threat. This post asks how women’s labour on the coronavirus frontline will be captured in the historical record.
Read the full blog post.
The DRN has been lucky enough to talk to Dianne Allen about her recently published book, Forewarned. Diane tells all about her experiences of serving as a women in the British armed forces.
What motivated you to write your book, Forewarned?
Initially, it was a cathartic process – I felt so raw when my military service ended abruptly that I needed to write down what happened. Then I put the draft away and focused on finding civilian work. But gradually I met others who had suffered similar experiences and were also trapped in the woeful service justice system. Through this network, I was given the opportunity, in 2019, to speak to the defence select committee. And I realised my story was quite unique – from having been one of the first women at Sandhurst, then being part of immense societal and military change, to setting up new military units and being awarded an OBE. But sadly, I found my ending was not unique. That too many of us had found that a whole military career can be taken away in an instant and had been ostracised and punished for speaking up. I felt that as a senior officer, who now had the lived experience of the ‘dark underbelly’ of the military, I could publish my story to put a human face on the problems. And encourage others to speak up too.
How have you found the experience of publishing a book?
My main experience is that it takes longer than I thought!
I naively thought all I had to do was write and then hey presto I would hand ‘my baby’ to a publisher. I started writing in 2017 - it took about six months to write the initial manuscript. Then a year of part-time research – I paid researchers to check the facts and talk to others with similar stories. Then I approached a professional to polish it up – I had really struggled to explain the military language and make it accessible to a wider readership. As it is a memoire, there were consents, a legal review, and a process to decide which names to change in the story. The final stage was to find a publisher. It was quite easy to write a synopsis of the story but matching with the right publishing team took some time. It is a fantastic experience to publish a book, but it is not easy – and not cheap.
Did you have to get clearance for the Ministry of Defence to publish your book?
I first told the MoD I was publishing in early 2020 but heard nothing back. Given my final years in the military were marred by some poor behaviours by senior officers, I decided to send a registered letter and phoned up as well – but there was no interest. I decided that I would pay for my own lawyer to clear the book for publishing. Once I announced the book in the media, the MoD then showed interest. I have had different types of military approach since then - most recently from a broader defence media team. Apparently, no-one needs to resign to publish a book anymore, but there is a desire (now) to know what is included. I have assured them the book is not about issues of national security; more about how defence treats its own people, especially minorities (which includes women, in the armed forces). The MoD shouts out on its recruitment websites that ‘people are defence’s greatest asset’, yet too many in military leadership roles are shirking their responsibilities to create safe environments. My view is therefore the MoD had their chance to review what happened – twice. But I am happy to keep engaging with government media, to ensure they are confident there are no security issues.
Your book has been picked up in the national media, what has this been like?
A new experience, so exciting – I am introverted by nature, but I felt so strongly that the MoD was not living up to its stated values, that I had to engage. I knew the media were essential to tell a story and my publishers, Cranthorpe Millner, have been a great help in navigating the media path. Plus, Deborah Haynes at Sky News was invaluable in advising me on the process. It is intimidating, as each journalist and media channel has a unique perspective and I learned that I would not get to see the final cut of any article before it went to print. So, an upward learning curve, but an important one.
I have met some great media people so far. They know their jobs and through them, they have given me instant access to a wonderful and wider network, all working to improve the armed forces environment.
What is Project 2021 and how can people get involved?
I talk about this on the website too – the project aims to capture as many tales as possible of the experiences of women who have served. Women and men have already been contacting me to share their stories – over a 100 tales, with charities also speaking to their people, to ask if they would like to participate. The project covers recent military history – from the open misogyny, legislative constraints, and sexual inequalities of the 70s and early 80s, through rapid change in the 90s, to the covert and unpleasant “toxic pockets” of today. It will not all be negative – it aims to be a balanced look at the better opportunities for women serving now, as well as the pitfalls. And it isn’t all about toxic men or the Army – there have been tales from the RAF, the RN, from civil servants and also from those pointing out that women in power positions can be equally toxic. Sometimes it is good men who have been the voices of equitable treatment.
I would love if the Defence Research Network would get involved. Either as researchers into the facts, to tell their own tales, or to help me analyse the common themes. Due to the nature of the stories, everyone will retain control of their own data; I am setting up a formal consent process before any story will be included, even if anonymised, or before I share with researchers. I am excited to announce that I have already partnered with a senior academic and am forming a research team to look at some key areas that could improve; for example better designed surveys, better education & mentoring systems for those currently serving. I suspect your members could help.
I am also working with a MP and with a professional journalist to bring these stories into the public domain. As a report and then as a book if we can find a publisher. That is Project 2021.
You have been quoted as saying that the British Army needs its ‘#MeToo moment’, how optimistic are you that this will happen?
I am cautiously optimistic because of the network I am part of now. I can’t do it alone. But by working with MPs, academics, journalists, lawyers and several excellent charities to expose the true scale of the problem, I think we can nudge the MoD to take a proper look at what is still going wrong. In autumn, I will be part of a formal government review. I do believe that most people working in the armed forces are good, it is just that an awful system and some leaders more interested in their career than their responsibilities are allowing toxic pockets to thrive. Strong leadership can push the bullies and misogynists back, but only cultural and systemic changes can permanently control it. The alternative is that the parallel justice and support systems that are developing via the charity sector will continue. The MoD should be appalled it has delegated the duty of care for their people to the charity sector. Of course, our parliamentary review may also mean that the government is now tired of waiting for the MoD to do the right thing – it might mandate change.
Can you tell is about the London Scottish Institute and your role in this?
It is my current project and I am loving it. I missed working in defence, but uniformed service was no longer an option. I was interested in how UK defence could benefit from building a stronger relationship with academia, businesses, and wider government. So, I approached London Scottish House, in Westminster who are now a great social enterprise in the heart of London. We shared a worry that UK sovereign resilience was low and there was little connection between defence and wider society. We realised there are parallels in allowing Scotland and England to drift apart (which I think would be a shame) and letting wider UK communities drift as well.
I was delighted when we agreed to work together. LSI was co-founded by myself, as CEO, with financial support and trustee input from London Scottish. We designed and set up a think and do tank, with a focus on re-building UK resilience. LSI is exploring what gives a country back its mojo – its information advantage. Not easy as it is as much about culture, habits & systems as well as tangible acts. I am already working with Sweden and other countries who are doing well in this area. It would be great to work with the Defence Research Network as we develop. We need more researchers and we need funding. We have started well but will need more partners to grow.