EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Soldier, security, society: ethnographies of civil-military entanglements

Location A-018
Date and Start Time 01 August, 2014 at 09:00


Birgitte Refslund Sørensen (University of Copenhagen) email
Sabine Mannitz (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt) email
Mads Daugbjerg (Aarhus University) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

How are boundaries and relations between military and civilian worlds redrawn today? On the basis of ethnographies of soldiers' and other security providers' engagements in situations of war or situations other than war, we explore theoretical approaches to contemporary security arenas and actors.

Long Abstract

This panel explores how boundaries and relations between military and civilian worlds are redrawn today. This implies attending to entanglements and collaborations between spheres that have usually been perceived as distinct and self-contained. We invite contributors to consider, instead, the very meeting grounds between civil society and security forces as contested zones of key cultural importance.

This meshing is especially pertinent given recent transformations, at the frontline and on the homefront, induced by the 'war on terror' and other conflicts. The complex setup of (co-)operations have arguably collapsed ideas of the soldier as a defender of national territories. Defending vaguer political and moral values and embodying new measures of security, the contemporary soldier is a locus of complex and confusing identifications and expectations. Moreover, we witness an increasing military engagement in security contexts other than war, contributing to an expansion of civil-military encounters. The London Olympics, the hurricane Katrina aftermath, and the anti-government demonstrations in Turkey exemplify such new meeting grounds. Often, 'pure' soldiers operate amidst related actors and forces, including police, private security companies, vigilante groups and traditional authorities. All the while, civilian support 'at home' remains a crucial concern.

We invite papers that engage in ethnographic documentation and theoretical conceptualization of the borderlands between military and civilian spheres, and of the ways in which the consideration of these not as distinct, but as interconnected, might further our understanding of the complex roles of soldiers and other actors in today's security arenas.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Civil-military relations: a challenge at home and abroad - an Austrian point of view

Author: Nadja Rossmanith  email

Short Abstract

This paper deals with the roles and identities of military personnel in the collaboration between Austrian armed forces and civil society on a national as well as international governmental and non-governmental level, both at home and abroad, as it is understood within today’s Austrian military.

Long Abstract

This paper deals with the roles and identities of military personnel in the collaboration between Austrian armed forces and civil society on a national as well as international governmental and non-governmental level as it is understood within today's the Austrian military. It draws on the Austrian military-strategy concepts and on interviews with officers who work in the field of civil-military relations on the levels of strategy, operations and tactics.

Civil-Military Cooperation in the Austrian system includes activities both at home and abroad. At home soldiers collaborate with civil society and other security providers in the fields of disaster relief (mostly snow and mud avalanches), police security assistance (such as border surveillance), aerial surveillance and other forms of support to communities. International commitments which interrelate to both civilian and military interests include but are not limited to humanitarian and disaster relief, crisis management, peace-keeping, search and rescue, training for civil personnel and securing cultural heritage sites. In the public discussion and reasoning preceding and subsequent to a referendum in January 2013 regarding the abolition of compulsory military service for men in Austria these international commitments were perceived to be more crucial to the Austrian politicians and society, than the military defence of national territory.

This paper therefore looks at the changing understanding of the role of the military and the identities of soldiers within the army on the basis of the fluctuating interconnection between military and civil areas of interest.

Outside at the door: the civil-military crisis of the Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan and its reputation in the old and new media

Author: Dinah Schardt (Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz)  email

Short Abstract

Based on a discourse about civil-military incompatibilities since Germany’s involvement in missions out of area, the paper focuses on media narratives (literature, movies, SNS) about soldiers' experiences in Afghanistan as an attempt to take action against a "friendly indifference" in public.

Long Abstract

The presentation illustrates preliminary results of a qualitative analysis based on Grounded Theory which focuses on civil crises and crises of the civil in terms of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and its reputation in the mass media. Actual starting point is an ongoing discourse about a "friendly indifference" in German society towards the German Bundeswehr and its missions. This rather intrinsic aspect for the Bundeswehr and respective members of defence policy is barely noticed in the civil public itself. The contradiction between the soldiers' self-perception as a "citizen in uniform" and the external one by the public as a "job like any else" refers to an ethical and scientific discourse about the increase of a so-called "civil-military incompatibility" since the beginning of Germany's involvement in global military missions out of area since the 1990s. Therefore, the claim of a lack of prestige in the civil public shows itself in soldiers' critics of the press and in ambitious advances to arouse attention to the incidents and problems in Afghanistan. A growing amount of autobiographical narratives by soldiers and their relatives in all kinds of mass media is eager to show an alternative view of the war and how it affects the personal life of soldiers. The presentation compares literature, TV movies and new forms of expression in the social media regarding their topics, semantics and their impact as an attempt from bottom up to interest an alternative and dispersed civil public through (classic) forms of entertainment and new digital communication.

M*E*S*H: civil-military entanglements among Danish ISAF troops

Author: Thomas Randrup Pedersen (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

How do Danish soldiers interweave civil and military worlds through the use of ‘strategies’ and ‘tactics’? Based on ethnographic fieldwork inside Danish ISAF units, this paper explores (re)configurations of civil-military interfaces and their effects on experiences of military life and death.

Long Abstract

In February 2009, a homecoming parade for Danish Afghanistan veterans was held in the streets of the garrison town of Holstebro. The parade was the first of its kind in Denmark in our time. This reinvented parading tradition exemplifies just one of many relatively new ways in which civil-military interfaces are (re)configured in the wake of Denmark's recent military engagements around the world. Based on an on-going ethnographic fieldwork inside two of the very last Danish combat units deployed to Afghanistan, the aim of this paper is to explore how civil and military worlds are interwoven before, during, and after deployment to the Afghan Province of Helmand. The paper follows the tank platoon Loki and the force protection section Fenris and makes its way through civil-military borderlands in garrison towns, at army barracks, on military training grounds, and in the Afghan theatre of war. The paper seeks in part to provide novel ethnographic insights into how Danish soldiers in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) relate to the military Other, the civilian, and, in part, to contribute to the theorisation of civil-military entanglements by drawing in particular upon de Certeau's notions of 'strategy' and 'tactic'. Especially, the paper strives to further our understanding of how the mesh of civil-military relations affects the Loki and Fenris personnel's sense of agency, and, by implication, the making of their experiences of military life and death.

'Streamlined for efficiency': narratives of change and the lives of 'military wives' in an Irish military camp

Author: Caitriona Delaney (Trinity College Dublin)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on changes in the Curragh Military Camp in Ireland and the cessation of providing married quarters. The defence forces’ ‘streamlined for efficiency’ has gendered consequences for the lives of ‘military wives’ and in terms of shifting boundaries between military/civilian worlds.

Long Abstract

The Curragh Camp in Co. Kildare, Ireland is the main training facility for the Irish Defence Forces. The Irish State inherited the camp together with its physical and social structure from the British Army in 1922 following the war of independence. A feature of the inherited structure was the practice of providing married quarters to soldiers and their families. From the 1980s the Irish Defence forces initiated disengagement from this practice. Drawing on interviews and ethnography exploring the experiences of 'military wives' connected to the Curragh Camp, I argue, changes in relation to married quarters can be seen to illustrate a gendered transformation of civilian/military relations and boundaries. Specifically, the military no longer want civilians living in the camp. This is evident from the physical changes in the camp - the majority of married quarters have been demolished and from the implications felt by those who remain. During a walk around the camp 'Walter', a retired soldier, remarked - 'The army wants rid of civilians end of ', (March, 2013). As civilians in a military camp, the wives of soldiers were always in an anomalous position, and the anomaly has become more apparent with policy decisions to stop providing married quarters. Theoretically this paper draws on the intersection of gender, place, the military and the state. Drawing on narrative interviews the paper focuses on changes in relation to married quarters, exploring the meaning of the Irish Defence Forces 'streamlining for efficiency' for 'military wives' connected to the camp.

From military bases to military logics: policing the citizen's revolution in Ecuador

Author: Erin Fitz-Henry (University of Melbourne)  email

Short Abstract

This paper demonstrates how, following the departure of a U.S. Air Force base from Ecuador in 2009, U.S. security logics were re-purposed to managed dissent around civilian development projects in the extractive sector.

Long Abstract

Ecuador is currently in the midst of a thoroughgoing political-economic transformation that has involved a wholesale rejection of Washington-led neoliberal orthodoxy and U.S.-led militarization. A key component of this transition has been the augmentation of national military and police forces, particularly around oil and mining projects. Taken together, these trends reveal a paradox: Following the eviction of a U.S. Air Force base in 2009, a new wave of state-led security crack-downs on those engaged in the contestation of extractive development projects has extended and even intensified military logics first developed in the United States. This paper challenges Loic Wacquant's conceptualization of the relationship between the Left and Right hands of the state by demonstrating how, following the departure of the base, U.S. security logics have migrated and been re-purposed. The research draws on ethnographic fieldwork conducted both before and after the start of the transition - first, with U.S. Air Force personnel involved in rural development before the eviction of the base, and second, with environmental activists subject to the state's growing criminalization of dissent around extractive projects in the years since. The central argument is that the Ecuadorian state's explicit rejection of U.S.-led militarization has been accompanied by an ongoing - if considerably quieter - importation of U.S. military models, logics, and techniques in the managing of dissent around development projects. Attention to these dynamics both de-centers and localises Wacquant's model, posing questions about the relationship between military 'security' and civilian 'development' in post-neoliberal Ecuador.

Reforming security or securitizing public policy? Civilian-military and police entanglements in West African security sector reforms

Authors: Christoph Kohl  email
Nina Müller (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt)  email
Alena Mehlau (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt)  email

Short Abstract

Our paper intends to analyze in how Western security sector experts experience and assess the challenge of implementing SSR in Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Nigeria. Light will be shed on how international police and military experts interact with civilians, civilian practices and civil society members.

Long Abstract

Over the past decade reforms of the security sector (SSR) - encompassing military, police, judiciary, oversight bodies and related legislation - have been implemented in a number of (post-)conflict countries. Following the emergence of the concept since the 1990s, security perspectives have opened up new fields of activities, and security concerns as part (not only) of SSR endeavours have made strong inroads into traditionally civilian arenas of development cooperation. In doing so, boundaries were redrawn between civilian, military and police domains. SSR is now widely regarded as a pre-condition for socioeconomic development and progress. Our paper intends to analyze in comparative perspective how Western security sector experts experience and assess the challenge of implementing SSR in the three West African countries of Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Nigeria. Light will be shed on how international police and military experts conceive the different security sector arenas, how they interact with civilians, civilian practices and civil society members, and how effects of these interactions materialize at local level. Part of this is the analysis of which kind of reform approaches international security sector experts believe to be suitable, in comparison to civilian concepts. Our empirical analyses question some of the differences between civilian, military and police approaches towards development that are stated, as a matter of routine, in both formal and informal conversations with international SSR personnel as well as in numerous SSR events which we attended as participant observers. The presented findings are based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in 2013 in all three countries.

A break with society? A break with the past? Civil-military collaborations and the reintegration of ex-combatants in central Mozambique

Author: Nikkie Wiegink (Utrecht University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper addresses the blurring of categorizations of civilians and combatants during RENAMO’s occupation of a district in central Mozambique and its consequences for common conceptualizations of ex-combatants’ reintegration processes.

Long Abstract

All too often the trajectories of combatants are framed in terms of "breaks": a break with society upon entering an armed group, and a break with the past forged through "reintegration". Such framings enforce a distinction between the military and civilian realms resulting in a limited understanding of the social lives of fighters and consequently their "reintegration processes". Through an analysis of narratives of both ex-RENAMO combatants and civilians about RENAMO's occupation of Maringue (1985-1992), central Mozambique, this paper shows how in asymmetric civil wars armed groups rely heavily on relationships with civilians of many kinds. I argue that such relationships are not necessarily based on violence and force, and are central for understanding what is often called the "reintegration process" of former combatants.

I employ the concept of "collaboration" to explore how combatants and civilians engaged in a range of relationships, with different goals, but with often mutually profitable outcomes. I focus on three examples of such collaborations: first, the incorporation of civilian leaders in RENAMO's forced labor structure, second, civilians' use of RENAMO force to settle personal scores, and third, marriage practices between RENAMO combatants and local women. This analysis demonstrates not only the (bounded) agency of inhabitants of war zones, but also the blurring of categorizations of civilians and combatants in protracted armed conflicts. Furthermore, this contribution shows the limitations of concepts such as the "return to civil society", "reintegration", and "re-acceptance" in describing the post-war trajectories of combatants.

Dressed to deceive: militar(ies) and civilian duplicitous identities during Nepal's civil war (1996-2006)

Authors: Judith Pettigrew (University of Limerick )  email
Sharon Hepburn (Trent University)  email

Short Abstract

In Nepal’s civil war (1996-2006) both sides concealed/manipulated their appearance, in order to misrepresent their identities. This paper explores the resulting entanglements which ensured that the politics of opposition (civilian-military) were more intricate than they might initially appear.

Long Abstract

The civil war in Nepal (1996-2006) was fought between Maoist insurgents and State security forces. For civilians, the on-the-ground reality of living between the opposing sides was complex, dangerous and uncertain. This was especially so when members of one or both sides concealed or manipulated their identities. While it was widely recognised that thieves masqueraded as Maoists - and as such stole from and terrorised villagers - what was less well recognised was that both the Maoists and the security forces also concealed/manipulated their appearance, in order to misrepresent their identities. Maoists, for example, sometimes posed as civilians or took on other identities such as vagrants (by dressing in rags). Army spies posed as civilians but soldiers also sometimes masqueraded as Maoists. This behaviour was primarily aimed towards intimidating civilians and/or trying to acquire intelligence about who might be a Maoist supporter. While the security forces were usually seen as "distant and aloof people who shouted orders", masquerading as Maoists brought them into contact with civilians in a particularly complex entanglement. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted during Nepal's civil war, this paper explores the manner in which both sides concealed, revealed and manipulated their identities. In Nepal there were two militaries, and sometimes militar(ies)-civilian entanglements existed along the duplicitous edge of the entanglements of the two militaries themselves, as they both misrepresented who they were. Thus, in this case, the politics of opposition (civilian-military) are more intricate than they might initially appear.

Negotiating roles: the case of 'Gurkha' soldiers

Author: Avash Piya (Aarhus University)  email

Short Abstract

The boundaries of military and civilian worlds are very different for a ‘Gurkha’ soldier at service and at home in the roles they perform. The social value that families and communities put on a ‘Gurkha’ soldier makes them negotiate these roles, allowing them to traverse between these worlds.

Long Abstract

The 'Gurkha' soldiers have long been part of the history and tradition of serving in the British Army, and to this day captures the imagination of many young boys who want to be part of this tradition. Recruitment as a 'Gurkha' soldier is the most preferred choice of employment among various ethnic groups in the hills of Nepal as families continue to send their sons for recruitment. The Gurkhas have also benefitted largely from this service, and have been able to generate wealth compared to others in their communities. But more importantly it is the prestige they garner as a soldier, and the respect they get after retirement within their communities that shapes the aspiration of many young boys to try for recruitment. However, over the years the number of intakes has decreased, and competition has been very high as thousands of young people go through various stages of screening to fill in a few places.

The case of the 'Gurkha' soldiers provides a unique look into how relations between military and civilian worlds intertwine. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Pokhara, Nepal, I explore how Gurkha soldiers engage in their communities, where they are seen as agents of change because of the skills, experiences and wealth gained from their services in the army abroad. Hence their role as a soldier is translated into a civilian back home, but more importantly they are expected to contribute to changes in the development of their community.

The creation of a military diaspora: the Gurkhas in the UK

Author: Jens Seeberg (Aarhus University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how Human Rights-based court cases and a public campaign fighting for the rights of Nepalese soldiers (Gurkhas) in the British army has redrawn the civilian citiscapes of Southern London and Western Nepal.

Long Abstract

For almost 200 years, the United Kingdom has recruited Nepalese soldiers, known as 'Gurkhas' for the British army. While a remarkably consistent colonial and postcolonial discourse has embedded this practice in a discourse about their exceptional bravery and loyalty, this practice provided UK with reliable, flexible and cheap soldiers, receiving poorer pay than their British and Commonwealth Nations colleagues. At the end of service, Gurkhas had to return to Nepal. Articulating a specific case of 'friction', Gurkha organizations has fought against the British army on the basis of a human rights argument claiming that this unequal treatment was a case of racial discrimination. Following court cases and the "Gurkha Justice Campaign" in the 2000s, the British government in two steps was forced to grant the right to permanent resettlement in the UK for ex-Gurkhas and their dependents after four years of service, irrespective of the time of retirement.

On the basis of multi-sited ethnography in Nepal and the UK among ex-Gurkhas among the Gurung population, this paper presents the changing cityscapes in Pokhara city, Nepal, and in Aldershot, a Southern London suburb popularly known as 'Little Nepal'. Following the policy change regarding resettlement, ex-Gurkhas who have been involved in WWII and British colonial and post-colonial wars throughout the 20th century are now reshaping social life in Southern London, while their absence in Pokhara is perceived as contributing to a 'cultural crisis' among the Gurung.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.