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Monthly Members' Newsletter

Here comes the sun! To celebrate the (almost) return of Summer and our collective emergence from hibernation, this May we have been discussing the body and its significance in military and defence research.

For new friends, welcome! We are an interdisciplinary network of Masters, PhD and Early Career Researchers focused on defence, security and military topics in relation to policy, strategy, history, culture and society. We hope you find our network interesting, exciting, informative, and supportive.

For old friends, thanks for your continued involvement. We would be nothing without you! This June, we're discussing military bodies, covering everything from caring for them to unpacking the politics behind them. On top of that, we have your latest list of June events, plus how you can enter the DRN's inaugural essay competition!

Scroll down to get up to date with the news, opinions, and events from our members...

As I compiled this newsletter, the week's seemingly unrelated news of the bodies discovered at a Roman burial site in Somersham, Cambridgeshire got me thinking about the weight we place on bodies as instruments of both terror and information. The excavated bodies, believed to have been decapitated as punishment for crimes, are being lauded for shedding light on the activity of the Roman military, allowing us to ask new questions about the history of torture, capital punishment, and military occupation. 

Despite such revelations, military, defence, and security studies have, for a long while, neglected talking about the 'fleshy' aspects of soldiering and the military, preferring to focus their attentions on the 'high politics' of machinery, strategy, and international security. Yet, bodies and their associated actions, injuries, and sacrifices are never too far from view, equally obscured and highly visible thanks to the physicality of military service. We owe a lot to critical feminist work on embodiment and aesthetics for prompting conversations on the corporeal dimensions of military and militarism research. Crucially, this work highlights the role of both military and civilian bodies in the reproduction of militarised norms, placing these bodies at the heart of their understanding of war and its aftermath. As is made clear by the Somersham discovery and the great contributions to this newsletter, grappling with the humanising aspects of conflict enriches our knowledge not only of tactics and outcomes but also of the people living through them.

Additionally, it was Memorial Day this week for our US readership, a day dedicated to remembering and respecting generations of fallen soldiers. As we discuss a little bit later, the body is so central to the practice of commemoration that the identification (or misidentification) of the remains of World War II casualties has a profound impact on families' processes of grieving. In a similar vein, the unprecedented number of deaths from COVID-19 this year has left many without the opportunity to achieve the closure of goodbye. Images of military trucks transporting coffins in Italy became a haunting (and embodied) example of war seeping into the 'everyday' during the early stages of the pandemic. 

What, then, can bodies teach us about war, culture, and society? What new insights could be revealed if we paid attention to how our bodies move through the world, both in life and death? Within the DRN's membership, there are a growing number of scholars asking and answering these pressing questions. The breadth of new research on embodiment and the military is clearly demonstrated by our Researcher Spotlight and the brilliant conversations had during our recent Twitter Hour. We are extremely grateful to everyone who has engaged with us over the month and taught us so much. And for those of you who are new to this area, read on! We hope that this newsletter piques your interest. 

As always, we wish you a happy and healthy month!

The DRN Team 

In the News... 
Ongoing Unrest in Myanmar
Four months after the military overthrew Myanmar’s elected government in a February 1st coup, the unrest continues. Almost 1,000 people have died and thousands more have been detained as the military cracks down on largely peaceful protests. Amidst the violence, activists say that the military is charging families 120,000 Myanmar kyat (around £52) to retrieve the bodies of relatives killed. This weaponisation of bodies is just one example (of many) of the junta's use of bodies as 'tools of terror' in Myanmar.
Rise of the Killer Drones?
According to a UNSC report published in March, a military drone may have autonomously attacked humans for the first time without being instructed to do so. The incident occurred as the UN-recognised Government of National Accord pushed the Haftar Affiliated Forces back from the Libyan capital Tripoli. The 
548-page report by the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Libya has not disclosed whether any deaths occurred. However, the incident raises important questions around global efforts to ban autonomous weapons and the role of military bodies in the future of warfare. 
What we've been up to... 
DRN Essay Competition 2021 • Future Threats & Challenges: Is the World Ready? 
We’ve got exciting news:  the DRN is launching its first essay competition!
We are pleased to invite all Masters students and recent graduates in International Relations, History and related fields to submit an essay for our inaugural essay competition. The essays should explore the future of global security and look to answer the following question in an innovative, creative and critical way:
 Future Threats and Challenges: Is the World Ready?         
The competition is a chance for you to share your thoughts in a new way, not restricted by academic standards. By participating you will get useful experience and can give valuable visibility to your research. 
The submission will be peer-reviewed by the DRN committee, and three prizes will be awarded (in Amazon vouchers). The first prize of £50 will be awarded to the Best Essay'. Two other prizes of £25 each will be awarded to The Most Creative Essay’ and the essay presenting ‘The Best Case-Study’. The winners will also receive recognition on the DRN’s social media platforms.
The essays must be written in English and should not exceed 2,000 words (excluding references and bibliography). You are free to use any referencing style as long as its use is consistent. To keep hold of this information, download our flyer.

Please send your essays to and include ‘DRN 2021 Essay Competition’ in your subject line.

The deadline for submission is 17th September 2021.

Good luck! 

For any queries about the competition please contact the DRN via email ( or reach out to us on our social media platforms
Researcher Spotlight
May's theme of military bodies has elicited some very exciting conversations within the DRN committee and among our members. Here is a quick spotlight on three brilliant members who are working in the space. Take a read and connect with them if your interests align! 
Virginia Sherborne 

Virginia is a third-year PhD student in the Mesothelioma UK Research Centre at the University of Sheffield. Her research topic is the psychological effects of mesothelioma in the UK military context, from the carer’s perspective. She has recently completed semi-structured interviews with caregivers of British military veterans who had a diagnosis of this asbestos-related disease. In the Spring of 2021, she was pleased to be able to contribute evidence from preliminary findings to the Parliamentary Defence Select Committee Inquiry: “Women in the Armed Forces: From Recruitment to Civilian Life.”

Alongside her PhD studies, Virginia works in private practice as a counsellor specialising in trauma and bereavement.

Contact email:

Louise Bell

Louise is an AHRC CDP-funded PhD student at the University of Leeds and The National Archives. Her research is, broadly, exploring British State provision of prosthetic limbs to ex-service personnel in the two world wars. This research will take an almost chronological approach to life after amputation, with its focus on limb manufacturing, limb fitting and limb use – and aims to bring veterans’ agency into this by exploring how they engaged with the prostheses offered to them.

As well as this, Louise is also a committee member of the Herstory Club and one of the Social History Society’s Community Exchange editors (and is always happy to chat about both).

Email: Twitter: @LouBell 

Mariah Loukou

Mariah is a PhD candidate in Critical Military Studies at City, University of London. Mariah investigates whether a separate system of training and education for female soldiers could benefit the U.S. military by taking a close look at the Norwegian Special Operations Forces all-female unit Jegertroppen, or Hunter Troop. You can find more in her recent peer reviewed article with the Marine Corps University here.

Mariah is also higher education professional with extensive experience in governance and policy development roles. Currently, she is serving as the Funding & Elections Officer with the British International Studies Association Postgraduate Committee.

You can connect with Mariah on Linkedin and Twitter @mariahloukou

Dr Paul Thornbury 
Paul completed his PhD at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Sociology. His research explores the commodification of ‘military capital’ in the private military security field. Paul draws on both professional and academic expertise to examine the transition of former service people into private security and the way in which the ‘reliable military body’ becomes an article of exchange in these markets.
He examines a fundamental social paradox in private military security, that embodied military identity has the capacity to create both security and insecurity under different organisational circumstances. 
Paul’s work focuses on organisational cultures in both the military and policing with the aim of better informing policy makers and practitioners of the impact that occupational cultures can have in institutional strategy and values. 
Paul can be contacted at
Call for Committee Members! 
Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at the DRN? Do you fancy getting involved in running a thriving, interdisciplinary, and global research network? You're in luck! We are on the lookout for new members to join our committee. We are particularly looking for enthusiastic individuals who are interested in joining our website and newsletter teams. No prior knowledge of software and/or editing is required, we will provide all the training required for these roles. 

The DRN committee is a great chance to build key social, team and organisation skills outside of your studies, and meet like-minded defence researchers! We understand the demands of your studies, and as a committee we are sensitive to your workloads and home life, providing flexible roles and ways of communicating. 
If you would like to know more or to let us know you're interested, you can reach out to us on Twitter: @DefenceResNet or email us at:

We look forward to meeting you! 
#NATO2021: Rebuilding the Consensus for a New Era 
9th and 10th of June 2021 (from 3 pm CEST - 2pm BST)
Ahead of this year’s NATO Summit - which will take place on the 14th of June in Brussels - the NATO Defence College Foundation is holding a conference to delve into the meeting’s main topics of discussion.

After a period where threat perceptions were palpable and easily recognisable, The Atlantic Treaty and the Preamble now reflect a different world and a different set of liberties. Consequently, 
NATO has the delicate task to rebuild a consensus on its fundamentals and its missions. Asking questions such as: What kind of political role for the Alliance: purely regional or with an important out of area component? How to articulate this role with the EU and outside Europe? And, what does really mean 360-degree security? The event hopes to encourage a high-level and timely preparatory debate on the future of the Alliance. 

Structured over two days, the first session will be dedicated to the harmonisation of different priorities among Allies and the cooperation with the EU, taking stock of the work underway around the reform of the Alliance (Group of Reflection and NATO 2030 agenda). On the second day, they will explore possible scenarios to achieve mutual security with global partners, in the framework of a credible engagement and possible deterrence. 

For more information and to register, follow this link.
EuroISME Annual Conference 2021: Ethics and Urban Warfare
10th and 17th June 2021

EuroISME’s virtual conference on ethics and urban warfare has begun! Kicking off yesterday, the programme is jam-packed with some 20 panels, involving 70 speakers from about 25 countries. 

Worried that you've missed it? Never fear! The conference is being held on three consecutive Thursdays (3rd, 10th and 17th of June) to accommodate participants in both Europe as well as North America, given the difference in time zones. This means that it is not too late to sign up! As well as online spaces for panels and plenary sessions, they have set up a virtual coffee room and a virtual bookstall. The organisers hope to publish a conference volume by May 2022.

Registration is very reasonably priced and can be booked by the day. For further details and to register, see their website.
Book Launch: I, Warbot 
17th June 2021, 6pm - 7.30pm BST 

The Freeman Air and Space Institute, King’s College London, invite you to join them for the launch of I, Warbot, Kenneth Payne's exciting new book exploring the impact of Artificial Intelligence on warfare. With artificial intelligence prominent in the recent UK Integrated Review, the timing couldn't be better.
Dr Payne argues that AI will have an outsize influence on the character of war, both in battle and as an aid to strategy. He explores the geopolitical implications of militarised AI, its impact on armed forces, and the prospects for rules that might govern the employment of sophisticated autonomous weapons. Dr Payne will be in conversation with Dr Keith Dear who is a former RAF intelligence officer and Expert Advisor to the Prime Minister.

To register, click here.

This exciting event links nicely to June's theme of Air and Space Power, and we are looking forward to having some interesting discussions on this throughout the month. If you have thoughts you would like to share, connect with us on Twitter!

War and Culture Studies – What Next?
18th June, 9am - 5pm BST

As we advertised in previous newsletters, the Journal for War and Culture Studies is running an online workshop day this month for ECRs working on critical war studies. Throughout the day, they will be discussing future directions and developments in the fields of war and culture studies, covering everything from poetry and videogames to the use of the electromagnetic spectrum.

While the call for papers has expired, registration is open for those who wish to attend. The event is open to academics and practitioners of all career stages. Supported by the Journals' publisher Taylor & Francis, the day will involve a series of flash presentations from early career researchers (post-doctoral researchers and postgraduate research students) working at the cutting edge of war and culture studies and a number of workshops designed to help ECRs to get their work published.

For the full line-up and to register, click here.

BISA Conference 2021: Forget International Studies?
21st - 23rd June 2021
The BISA conference is renowned for being inclusive, diverse and friendly. They bring together a worldwide community of specialists to discuss, promote and develop International Studies.

In 2021 they're going virtual! Taking the provocation of ‘forgetting’ International Studies, #BISA2021 offers an opportunity both to critically engage with this period of global change and to reflect upon the possibilities and limitations of the discipline in confronting it. Highlights include three fantastic keynotes featuring Professor Gary Younge, Dr Agnes Callamard and more, 100+ panels, an art exhibition, and an IR quiz. For more information and to register, click here.

Multi-Domain Integration Industry Day
24th June 2021, 10am - 5pm BST

Bringing together people from industry and academia to discuss multi-domain integration (MDI), Strategic Command is running a day-long event at the Defence Academy in Shrivenham on the 24th of June. 
The day will provide industry with information about the aims of MDI, the motivations for change, MDI’s concept and how the Change Programme has been put together.

In the morning, senior speakers from across the Ministry of Defence will outline the ambitions of MDI and how the objectives will be met. The afternoon will focus on break out discussions with industry. The breakout forums will focus on:

  • What needs to change in the MOD and industry to better enable and/or achieve MDI?
  • Where can defence better learn from industry and academia in realising MDI in the Information Age?
  • Where can defence seek knowledge, experience and innovation to improve for future MDI operations?
Attendees will gain an improved understanding of the initiatives that form part of the programme and will have the opportunity to help influence change in defence.

For more information and how to register, follow this link. 
Military-inclusive Higher Education in England the current situation and future vision
29th June 2021, 10pm BST

As you will be aware if you follow our newsletter closely, the Australasian Services Care Network has been holding some fantastic webinars recently. June is no exception. Continuing their discussion on the role of education in enhancing wellbeing and life outcomes for military service members, veterans, and their families, this month's presentation takes an English perspective. 
In their upcoming webinar, Dr Graham Cable and Professor Mike Almond will present the current situation and their future vision for military-inclusive Higher Education in England. Their presentation will provide an overview of the existing incentives and policies designed to encourage the UK Armed Forces community to undertake 'elective' post-secondary school education, offering a concept for boosting and supporting these efforts. Based on evidence from the US, they argue that investment in this area benefits not only the individuals concerned, but also the Armed Forces, the educational institutions involved, and the wider national community.

Dr Cable is a Research Fellow and Professor Almond is a Professor of Veterans and Families Studies, both at the Forces in Mind Trust Research Centre, affiliated with the Veteran and Families Institute for Military Social Research at Anglia Ruskin University. 

To sign up, follow this link.
RAF Museum Conference: New Thinking in Air Power

16 September - 17 September 2021

Tickets are now available for Royal Air Force Museum’s ‘New Thinking in Air Power’ conference on 16th and 17th September 2021. Held in person at the Royal Air Force Museum, London, the conference will bring together academics and scholars to present Air Power research that challenges the accepted historical consensus.

The conference will feature a keynote address from Professor John Ferris entitled “Revolutions in Airpower, 1903-2021: An Anatomy” and a Roundtable session chaired by Professor David Edgerton.

The conference represents an important moment in advancing historical knowledge, with insights from Air Power scholars in all corners of the world. An exciting line-up of speakers will assess the current state of Air Power historiography and the future direction of Air Power thinking. The conference panels will cover everything from the First World War to digital research methods, from Air Power and the Nuclear Paradigm to the motivations of individuals and Air Forces. 

For more information and to register, follow this link.
As always, keep an eye on our Twitter for new events and opportunities posted/retweeted every day!

Planning a future event?
If you are planning a defence-related event and you would like to reach an audience of like-minded researchers, we'd love to come along! Drop us an email and we can include it in our next newsletter.
If you are interested in any of our events but don't want to go alone, or simply want to expand your network, please reach out on Twitter or drop us an email and we can connect you with fellow DRN members who may be planning to attend.

If you would like to advertise any upcoming opportunities, please let us know via email.
Disabled Veterans' Scholarships Fund

The Open University is offering full scholarships to veterans who have been injured in, or due to, military service. They offer 50 scholarships every year, and all undergraduate and postgraduate modules and qualifications are eligible.

You’ll have your fees waived for a maximum of 120 credits per seasonal academic year, up to a maximum of 360 credits, which is equivalent to a full honours degree. Applicants will also be offered further specialist careers and disability support, alongside free study.

They are now open for applications for the 2021/22 academic year, and applications close at midnight on the 9th of July. 

If you would like to find more information on the Fund and how to apply, follow this link.
Call for Papers: The Journal of Aeronautical History
The Journal of Aeronautical History is looking for papers that speak to diverse and non-technical areas of aeronautical history, from scholars at all stages of their careers.
As an internationally recognized, free-to-access, web-based, peer-reviewed publication of the Royal Aeronautical Society, the JAH covers all aspects of aerospace history and the development of aircraft and aeronautical engineering. The editors are particularly interested in hearing from PGRs, ECRs, and scholars researching non-technical aspects of aerospace history, whether that be the evolution of the science and engineering of flight, biographies of notable individuals, and/or civil and military organizational and operational histories. For more information visit their website, or e-mail , or Twitter @Cobraball3.
Call for Contributors: Defence-In-Depth
The Defence-In-Depth blog is run by Kings College London and has recently featured a number of blogs from DRN members. Their content is well suited to the breadth of our network and they are keen to hear from you with contributions from a wide range of subject areas. To submit a piece or discuss your ideas, contact the editor at
Supporting our Community...
Call for Participants: Educators of Military Children
The lovely Shannon Hill is looking for participants for her doctoral study into the education of military children. If you think you can help her, get in contact via
Call for Participants: Female and Trans-female British Army soldiers and ex-soldiers
Birbeck PhD student, Lee Arnott, is looking for participants for a PhD project researching masculinities in the British Army. Check out his call for participants and get in contact with him if you think you can help!  
Fundraising for PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide  
At the end of this year the brilliant Gav Topley, a former co-chair of the DRN, is tackling Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for PAPYRUS, the national Charity for the Prevention of Young Suicide.  

Suicide is the biggest killer of young people under the age of 35 in the UK, in 2018 over 1800 young people took their own lives. PAPYRUS provides confidential support and advice to young people struggling with thoughts of suicide, and anyone worried about a young person through their helpline, HOPELINEUK. We'd love it if you would donate to Gav's challenge here, and you can read about PAPYRUS' good work here. 
#DefResChat: The Military Body in Times of War
This month’s  #TwitterHour discussed a new thematic area for the DRN: 'The Military Body in Times of War'. We are grateful to our contributors for sharing their expertise and thoughts on the military body. 

Q1) Tell us about your research and/or the current debates in the study of the military body in times of war? 
  • My last piece of work was a chapter for a book written about the embodied experience of having served and carrying that into post service life. There is a connection between the mind and body through embodiments. It is this that links us to culture, i.e. The military.
  • My research explores how women's war labour has been made invisible and how they have negotiated a place in the 'front line'. Discursive constructions of women in 'front line combat' have drawn on the imagery of servicewomen's bodies: femininity, uniform, bearing arms.
  • Still early into my PhD project. Part of my research looks at how violence inflicted upon military bodies is linked to collective imaginaries of a vulnerable national body politic.
  • One aspect of my research concentrates on whether a gender-neutral special forces is possible in the U.S. using Norway's Hunter Troops as a good example.
  • I'm in the second stage of my PhD looking at needs and behaviour profiles of veterans when enlisting and transitioning out of the armed forces.
  • I'm currently researching the provision of prostheses and care to amputees in the First and Second World Wars.
  • I'm researching the psychological impact of the incurable asbestos-caused illness mesothelioma on UK veterans. I am interested in how military training around the body and pain may impact this.
Q2) How does war impact a service person's body?
  • I believe it gives them a new identity that is both shaped by experiences within the military (and its values) and during war. A transformative experience.
  • Yes, I think there are two identities. There is the been on active service whilst you are still serving gives you an identity with your peer group. The second being the identity of war veteran placed upon you by societal and historical narratives.
  • On my goodness. Simply through the embodiments we carry from such an experience. In simple terms why does the sound of a jet screaming overhead still raise my anxiety and induce fight or flight because it is an embodied part of my experiences of the Falklands war.
  • Numerous ways! But, naturally, my focus is on how war resulted in many men returning from the front as disabled ex-servicemen. I focus on the physical disability of limb loss, but, as we know, there are a range of physical and metal wounds resulting from war.
  • Interesting Op Granby created many problems due to many different things. Some Veterans severely disabled, others manage their injuries, vaccinations, depleted uranium, smoke, chemicals, organo-phosphates NAPs.
Q3) What has changed about how we understand the military body in times of war?
  • For very long military body was synonymous to elite alpha males; the discussion has slowly changed to say that military body is the body that protects a country and that can be a woman’s, a man’s, gender neutral. it’s not only frontline but also cyber war.
  • I’m not sure it has. Perhaps it is society that has changed. I think the military body during war is still based on archetypal hero images. The returning hero or the sacrifice of the hero. It is portrayed in a certain way through its representation in media.
  • I saw this new research about the image of the military body and how it seems to need enhancing artificially. 
Q4) What are the myths and misconceptions about the military body in times of war?
  • It's worth to not just explore military body as exclusively 'human', but how it interacts with technologies/ how technologies are discursively produced as acting in combat. Masters' cyborg soldiers come to mind.
  • Humanity is an interesting misconception. I have witnessed a great deal of humanity during the Falklands war/Northern Ireland. I also think the notion of strength comes from the connectedness you have with the people you are fighting with. A collective strength.
  • That is a difficult one. However I feel myths and misconceptions are routed in historical narratives of what it is like to go to war. These come from 'outsiders'. They feed into stereotypes and polarised views on impact of war. Mad bad sad.  But after the guns stop.
  • That the military body has to always be “strong”; the idea that showing vulnerability/humanity is a sign of weakness rather than strength.
  • I think there is a question about whose bodies even are military bodies? Is a Private Security Contractor or Civilian Government Official working with the military in a war zone in any way classed as a military body. How are their bodies treated differently?
  • Transitioning from military life means you have to reckon that at some point you've personally killed someone, and personal experiences are guarded by some soldiers to their graves. One serviceman put it "Combat turns you into an asshole or a coward." By them it is not glorified.
Keep your eyes peeled on our website for the next #DefResChat, and don't forget to check for more info on Twitter and our website. 

You can also find all our previous #DefResChats on the Archive section of our
website. Make sure to tag @DefenceResNet and hashtag #DefResChat to join the conversation.
Find Out More
What we're reading...
In Conversation
Following from May's theme of military bodies, we have two more in conversation pieces for you. First is Dr Kandida Purnell, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Richmond University. Dr Purnell's research builds on contemporary critical, gender, and postcolonial theory to centre the global politics of bodies. Through cases such as the COVID-19 pandemic, military and other mass casualty repatriation, commemoration, and resistance practices, she investigates contemporary patterns and logics of violence and (re/dis)embodiment. Her book 'Rethinking the Body in Global Politics' was published earlier this year. We then chatted to Dr David Jackson. Dr Jackson is a former Royal Marine, war veteran, counsellor, and academic. He is an expert in the social and cultural aspects of war veterans living in society, creating mutli-modal work on his experience of war and its aftermath. Dr Jackson is the Co-Director of Veteran to Veteran (Turning it Around) and was an academic consultant for Lord Ashcroft's Veterans Transition Review. He is currently involved in Minefield, a play about the Falklands War.

Check out our discussions below - they are also available on our website!
Hi Kandida! 
  • To what extent does your work look at historical representations of the military body?
My work looks at historical representations of the military body in a number of ways. Firstly, I have done this by charting the shifting visibility and contested grievability of the military body finding that, particularly in the case of the American soldier but echoed globally due to what I have described as the contemporary ‘necropolitical visual imperative’,the suffering and dead military body was gradually blotted out of the public’s sight from the mid-20th century onwards.
I did this by investigating the treatment, visibility, and even disposal of soldiers’ bodies, finding this increasingly informed by a logic wherein soldiers’ material bodies were valued highly – as a ‘precious resource’ no less with which to fuel the Global War on Terror (GWoT) – while being simultaneously invisibilised, uncounted, and commemorated - literally disposed of as landfill in some cases, in the same manner as nonhuman battlefield waste (see Purnell, 2018). Towards this study I homed in on updates to US Department of Defense and Army Mortuary Affairs body-disposal policies and repatriation practices, finding soldiers’ deaths being increasingly cleansed from vocabulary and vision – especially after the March 2003 ‘Dover Ban’ was enforced. This particular policy update meant that there would be ‘“no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel returning to or departing from Ramstein or Dover AFB, to include interim stops” from then onwards. However, I found this ban to be exemplary of a much wider set of more subtle processes and practices working to move wounded and dead American soldiers out of the American public eye during the GWoT. Interestingly, what this research also reveals is how the (in)visibility and grievability of the military body is that it is always contested as the Dover Ban was eventually partially reversed in 2009. Indeed, towards investigating the cause for this policy U-turn I found wounded and dead American soldiers time and again forcing moments of politics because of being known, counted, and making others feel differently as the limit of the American public eye’s sight was successfully renegotiated by subordinate yet challenging bodies including military families and Civil Society Organisations demanding and, indeed, taking the right to see and grieve the Killed In Action (KIA) in public.
I have continued to look at historical representations of the military body by investigating how soldiers are performed in public via ‘museumification’ practices (see
Danilova and Purnell 2020) and Army and artist engagements which have become increasingly prevalent during the Global War on Terror (See Purnell and Danilova 2018 and Danilova, Dolan, and Purnell Forthcoming). Based on extensive ethnographic research and interviews with military museum curators and key stakeholders involved in the British Army’s ‘Army@Fringe’ initiative and presence at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival since 2017, key takeaways towards understanding the making (in)visible of particular military bodies – both in museums and on the stage - are that during the GWoT, the (in)visibiisation of particular soldiers’ bodies has worked to re-secure a biopolitical (life oriented and affirming) mask of ‘virtuous’ war and limits rather than widens the space for critical discussion of military actions while the bodies of soldiers museumified through curatorial practices work further in the service of the construction of classed, raced, and gendered hierarchies - all of which sustain the dominance of a particular warrior-like military masculinity deployed and portrayed in the service of the state.
  • What are you currently working on? 
I’m currently involved in two interdisciplinary, collaborative projects within which I am continuing to research and write about the contested invisibility and grievability of bodies. The first moves beyond the military setting to look at how every body has been and will continue to be contested through the COVID-19 pandemic. This project ‘Covid-19 (Un)Commemoration and Contested Collective Memory’, on which I am working with Professor Jenny Edkins, Professor Lucy Easthope, and Amy Cortvriend moves beyond a focus on the military body and therefore works towards my ultimate aim of pushing IR’s boundaries outwards – to the everyday and everywhere of even and especially apparent peacetime and private life by revealing the more subtle ways, processes, and logics informing how every body is contested as a site of no fewer amounts of global politics. Towards this the COVID-19 commemorations project will bring together stakeholders including academics specialising in mass casualty commemorations and the politics of grief and memory, disaster planning and aftermath practitioners, local and central Government commemorations policy makers, and activist groups representing families of the bereaved and civil society remembrance initiatives in the hopes of not only further understanding the ways and means through which bodies are contested are represented in the contemporary era but also feeding into the establishment of a just and appropriate way of remembering and honouring those who died during the pandemic.
Staying with the military body, the second project I am involved with (with Natasha Danilova and Emma Dolan) continues to investigate contemporary Army and Artist engagements with a view to expanding our study beyond the UK towards international case studies. 
  • What was your path to where you are now? 
It has been a very long and hard path to become an Assistant Professor. After doing a Masters in IR in 2008-2009 I worked briefly at a think tank - London’s Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) - before moving into the international development sector and NGO Publish What You Fund, the Global Campaign for Aid Transparency – first as Executive Assistant to the Director then as Advocacy and Strategy Coordinator.
However, I never really stopped thinking about what I had begun to uncover during my Masters which investigated body politics in the West Bank and would find myself reading academic journal articles on the tube into the office. In early 2011 I saw a PhD opportunity calling for someone to investigate ‘Violent/Violated Bodies’ within the University of Aberdeen’s ‘Interdisciplinary Approaches to Violence Programme led by Professor Marysia Zalewski and Dr Andrea Teti and went for it. This was the only PhD I ever applied for and I got it (in one of the rare moments the path was ‘smooth’)!  After some 6 months worth of hesitation and reluctance to leave my life and job in London to step into the unknown I eventually moved there in early 2012.
As a PhD candidate, doing interdisciplinary work in a small and niche part of the field of International Relations by focusing on body politics – was very hard and I have written about that
elsewhere. However, after graduating, my post-PhD path only got harder as I spent years on the academic job market – which nearly completely destroyed my career as an academic all together due to the inability to research and publish while applying and interviewing every ‘season’ and moving for fixed-term teaching jobs annually. Thankfully, just as I was about to admit defeat, I  was hired as an Assistant Professor of International Relations in September 2019 and only since then has the path got smoother allowing me to publish more frequently, finish my first book, and become involved in the projects described above.
  • Who have been the most influential academics on your professional career? 
This is an easy one: Lauren Wilcox for writing Bodies of Violence’, Jessica Auchter for her work on dead bodies and global politics, and Stefanie Fishel for her work on the body politics of the body politic in ‘The Microbial State’. These three people really paved the way for my ‘body politics’ research programme within IR. Broader influences are Judith Butler for showing how material bodies come into(/out of) being via performativity (“the reiterative power of discourse to produce the phenomenon that it regulates and constrains”), Jenny Edkins especially for contributions around missing bodies and politics that relatedly misses the person, and Achille Mbembe for accurately characterising the politics of the present as necro (death)-oriented and concentrated on dividing populations into (a) those allowed, encouraged, and even made to live and (b) others allowed, let, and even required to die.
  • What are you currently reading and are you enjoying it? 
I am currently trying to simultaneously read and finish ‘After Grenfell: Violence, Resistance and Response (2019) and Charlotte Epstein’s ‘Birth of the State: The Place of the Body in Crafting Modern Politics.’ However, I will probably not manage to do so until the summer ‘break’!
Hi, David!
  • What got you into your field of study in the first place? 
In 1998 I enrolled on the Master in Art (Counselling studies) at the University Of East Anglia. It was a two-year course travelling up to Norwich from Cornwall for weekends of lectures and workshops and part of my ongoing professional development as a psychoanalyst.
It was on a long train journey home from Norwich I had a moment that would set the road map for what has become a large part of who I am as a researcher and had a huge influence on who I want to be as a war veteran. I have always written for myself and this was what I wrote in my journal on that train journey:

I was tired of hearing others speak for me. What do they know? What do they care? I realised that I had a voice and I could speak for myself. I was a veteran of the Falklands conflict who had been labelled as having PTSD.

It was then I  wrote my first autoethnographical research piece.  Has my Journey from Royal Marine to Counsellor enabled me to embrace my experience of war and ultimately accept it?
  • What was your path to where you are now? 
It was a long one. I finished my EdD at the University of Bristol. My dissertation is called Seven Days Down South: A war story. It consisted of two distinctive parts. The first part is a DVD which is a representation of my experience and memories of returning to the Falklands on the 25th anniversary pilgrimage. The second part of my dissertation contextualised the film and the overall research project through academic writing. It was the first time in the UK the experience of war was represented using these methods. I had high hopes of getting ‘that job’ to further my research and expand these methods to other veteran and family narratives.  It did not happen and after applying for many jobs with non-shortlisting’s and very few shortlisting’s I had yet another eureka moment. I needed to do this on my terms. It took 7 years from that point to getting my first 18 month contract researching what I am passionate about. It was about getting out there, presenting at conferences, networking, joining veteran’s organisation to challenge current thinking from within, knocking on doors, standing on a soap box and shouting with a passion about what is missing in veteran and families research.
  • What are you currently working on? 
I am working on a project called Stories in Transition. We are exploring three veteran charities that use art, culture and sport to support the veteran’s community. The uniqueness of this project is that we are using veteran peer researchers who will be conducting the research. I have many roles on this project but it very exciting to be foregrounding the veteran’s voice. It is a part time role for me for two years. I work from home as part of my contract, so my commute is walking across the lawn to my office at home in Cornwall. I am also involved in a play about the Falklands War called Minefield. It has been on hold due to Covid, but we are back on stage in July in Belgium. There are 3 Argentine veterans, 2 former Royal Marines and 1 former Ghurkha in the play who are all non-actors. It is about our lives before, during and after the Falklands war. It has toured internationally for the last five years to much critical acclaim.
  • What are you currently reading and are you enjoying it? 
I usually have two books on the go. At the moment I’m reading The Great War for Civilisation: The conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk. I am enjoying it because I love history through narrative. However, it actually makes me angry at times because of the sheer hypocrisy of western governments over many years. To complement this, I like to read biographies or autobiographies of interesting people. As a guitarist myself I am currently reading Slash’s, of Guns and Roses fame, biography.  
  • Who have been the most influential academics on your professional career? 
For me, it is more about who has influenced me on the importance of giving voice and foregrounding that voice. These would be Professor Jane Speedy, of University of Bristol. She encouraged me to find my voice in my way. The second is Professor Andrew Sparkes who introduced me to the ways that people experience different forms of embodiment over time in a variety of contexts. His use of narrative, ethnography and Autoethnography also encouraged me to find my voice and explore my embodied world. 
  • What do you see as the biggest debates in the study of the military body?
I see the biggest debate in the study of the military body as being the objectification of war veteran bodies through a constant regurgitation of papers focusing on PTSD and its treatment from an experience of war. Since 1982 there have been over 30,000 papers that explore this area. Of course, I am not suggesting they have not made significant contributions to the treatment of PTSD. However, that treatment is limited by the medicalisation of such treatment through the NICE guidelines for the treatment of PTSD. Other veteran and families research tends to use online questionnaires and structured interviews. My question to the research community would be where is the voice?

Speaking as a war veteran with a mental health disability I would suggest the person who knows best what it is like to live in my skin is me. However, there is limited research that foregrounds this voice through life story, narrative, creative methods and autoethnography. Secondly, I also think that there are a lot of assumptions made about what veterans and their families might need or want from society. This feeds into policy decision making and is for us and about us without actually sitting down and asking what we might need from society as a collective group. A very good example of this is the current Operation Courage, the mental health service specifically for veterans. I find the very name it has been given incredibly patronising. Whilst I know that was not the intent, it suggests so much about veterans on so many levels. It feeds into the notion of bad, sad and mad as historical stereotypes. Seeking help from therapeutic services for veterans is far more complex than finding the courage to go. Once again no one asked us what we wanted. In fact, no-one asks what we want from society. More research is needed that asks that question and foregrounds our subjectivity and voice.
  • What is absent in the study of the military body?
The issue of the absence of the military body is an interesting statement. I would suggest that there is a multiplicity of layers to this ‘absence’. If we start with the MOD and the veteran’s community there is a well-trodden narrative that we are one military body. To this end, the ‘impression’ from those looking in from the outside might be one of unity, support and collaboration. However, we are not one we are two separate and distinct bodies. An example of this is the Armed Forces Military Covenant putting veterans and the Armed Forces together. The needs of both communities are very different.
If we take this down to the level of individual subjectivity and the military body, there are two very distinct bodies: the subjectivity of being in the Armed Services and the subjectivity of having been in the armed service and who now is a veteran, the veteran body. To further complicate matters there is the expectation that your embodied sense of the military can be left like a skin in a locker and you then put on the skin of being a civilian, who is a veteran. Furthermore, there is an assumption that this can be achieved through a process that is called transition. Whilst the majority of former armed forces personal can manage the nuances of this transition. There is very little attention paid to the historical, social and cultural aspects of such an experience not just for veterans but their families too. We are ignoring so much new knowledge that would inform the transition process.

Thank you, both, for talking with us today! 
Want to go back and read last month's 'In Conversation' interview? You can! We are cataloguing all of our In Conversation pieces separately on our website. If you know someone interesting who would be willing to take part in our In Conversation series, please let us know via email. 
Blog Spotlight: The UNITS Study: Developing psychosocial support for appearance-altering injuries
Dr Mary Keeling
On behalf of the UNITS team, Centre for Appearance Research, University of the West of England.

Body image is rarely discussed in relation to the psychological impact of battlefield injuries on military personnel and ex-service personnel; that was, at least, until recently. Since autumn 2018, researchers at the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR), University of the West of England, Bristol, have been studying the psychosocial impact of ‘appearance-altering’ injuries (e.g. those that result in scarring and/or limb-loss) among military personnel and ex-serving personnel injured during operational deployments or training for deployment.

Dr Mary Keeling, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Appearance Research, has written a blog for our website in which she talks us through their study. In the piece, she discusses the process of researching 'appearance-altering' injuries in serving and ex-serving personnel, including the role of military masculine bodies ideals and the impact these injuries had on personal relationships. 

The next three months will see the UNITS team developing and testing the acceptability of a proposed multi-level intervention and applying for additional funding to test the effectiveness of the intervention, working with key stakeholders to ensure a feasible and accepted implementation of appearance-specific support for injured military personnel, veterans, and their families. Further research specifically focused on the romantic relationships of veterans with appearance-altering injuries and their partners is also planned.

To keep up to date with the work of the UNITS team and CAR you can follow both on Twitter and Instagram (@unitsstudy / @car_uwe).

To read the full blog, head to our website.
New Books
Countering Violent Extremism: The International Deradicalization Agenda
By Tahir Abbas
The book deals with the concept of countering violent extremism, providing an overview and critique of the de-radicalisation field. The book explores how terrorism and radicalisation have become sociological, political and cultural concerns, and it explores these matters in local, national and global contexts.
Furthermore, it considers the role of governments and issues relating to state terrorism and the counter-terror state.
You can buy a copy
Mission France: The True History of the Women of SOE 
By Kate Vigurs 
This book explores the story of the 39 female Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents sent into Occupied France during the Second World War. The book focuses on the women whose stories had been largely overlooked, showing their different fates. The book places the women in the context of their work with the SOE and the wider war, showing the differences in their abilities and attitudes whilst also emphasising how they shared a common objective and deserve to be recognised.
You can buy a copy
Pause for thought...

On Monday of this week, the United States observed Memorial Day, a day for remembering and respecting fallen soldiers whilst reflecting on the human sacrifice of war. This memorial day has renewed significance for some families, however, as new technologies have been able to identify formerly unaccounted for remains from World War II. The family of Navy Fireman 3rd Class Welborn L. Ashby, who died at Pearl Harbour, were among those newly burying loved ones. Additionally, the remains of U.S. Marine Captain Glenn Walker have been identified in Hawaii, some 70 years after another body was buried in his place.

This got me thinking about the significance of bodies for the practice of commemoration and the impact of misidentification for families committed to respecting their fallen. In what way does exhuming and examining the bodies of the past contribute to the act of remembrance?

What do you think? Let us know on Twitter!

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