Four public lectures on methodological and ethical challenges of doing research on soldier and veteran sociality – 8th and 9th of December 2016, Copenhagen

Warring relations: methodological and ethical challenges of ethnographic research on soldier and veteran sociality, 8th and 9th of December, 2016 at the Danish School of Education (DPU), Aarhus University – Campus Emdrup

The Danish School of Education (DPU) and the Research Unit for Qualitative Studies of Socialization are hosting five public lectures on the methodological and ethical challenges of doing research on soldier and veteran sociality. The five lectures will address the specificities of conducting research on soldiers and veterans and their social networks across a diverse set of academic and empirical fields. The first three lectures take place on 08.12.2016  between 09:00 and 12:30, the last two lectures on 09.12.2016 between 09:00 and 11:00. All lectures will be held at the Emdrup Campus of Aarhus University, building D, room 174. The lectures are organized by the research project “Militarizing Intimacy” and the research unit Qualitative Studies of Socialization at the Danish School of Education in collaboration with the Center for Military Studies, University of Copenhagen and the Danish Veteran Center.

Keynote Lectures – Thursday, 8th of December, 2016 – 09:00-12:30, DPU, building D, room 174

Lecture 1: In defence of critique: reflections on doing military anthropology

Birgitte Refslund Sørensen, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen

For many years I conducted research in Sri Lanka’s war-torn landscapes, where suicide bombs, landmines and political violence at times posed life-threatening dangers to my interlocutors and myself. To survive and succeed in this field required extreme alertness and caution in addition to sound methods, integrity, good connections, diplomatic skills and a fair share of good luck. Doing anthropological research in Denmark on the diverse reverberations of the distant wars in Balkan, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, only presents more abstract risks, but these, I suggest, are equally important to identify and address. In this paper I reflect on the conditions and contingencies of doing basic and applied anthropological research within this field. In particular I address the need and potentialities for critical research in a field, where expectations of criticism and support, and requests for making headlines prevail. Critique to me is an ethical quest in a field that absorbs exorbitant amounts of resources, fundamentally shapes the organisation of societies and directly affects the lives that people can live. A central place to initiate critical reflections on military research is the question of what constitutes the ‘field’?


Lecture 2: Fieldnotes on the Politics of Veteran Care

Kenneth MacLeish, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Health, and Society and Anthropology, Vanderbilt University

In the contemporary US, the notion that soldiers and veterans are uniquely deserving subjects of state and collective care is utterly naturalized. This naturalness is enhanced by the fact that medicine, psychiatry, and a lay language rich in diagnostic idioms of injury and trauma constitute the primary frame for collective and subjective understandings of the effects of organized violence on those who produce and participate in it. And it is further enforced by the fact that, while soldiers and veterans are frequently invoked in partisan political debate, material support for them is politically uncontroversial. But the question of what it means to care for and care about veterans is far from politically neutral. Veterans, after all, have been exposed to and empowered to exercise violence on purpose and routinely, not as some regrettable exception to the normal order of things. The injury and repair of veteran bodies and psyches is tied directly to the instrumentalization of those bodies and psyches for war-making and ultimately imbues the violence of war itself with a vital but largely bloodless morality. Veteran experience testifies to the largely unacknowledged fungibility of life within the broader bio- and necropolitics of contemporary war, and yet those politics often disappear amidst the unimpeachable goodness of caring for those who fight wars. In this talk, I describe how these tensions take shape in the critical analysis of and ethnographic engagement with discourses and sites of where veterans are cared for, their injuries and labor are compensated, and their futures are scripted and imagined—by them and others. Within and beyond the bounds of military communities and of the US itself, American veterans are reduced to figures of bare life, dependency, and stereotyped threat, even as they are venerated and sentimentalized and made the objects of special solicitude. This talk traces these dynamics through a series of anecdotes that describe ongoing ethnographic research in a range of non-clinical spaces of veteran care, chiefly around veteran suicide, non-psychiatric responses to war trauma, and local criminal courts tailored to the needs of veteran offenders. I intersperse these accounts with others describing the presentation of anthropological perspectives on war-making and military life to a range of public, scholarly, and service-provider audiences, and reflect on the potentials and limits of ethnography for challenging conventional liberal understandings of war, its institutions, and its aftermath


Lecture 3: Title ’The Political Power of Being Veterans: Danish Veterans, Afghan Interpreters and the Duties of the Danish State’

Kristian Søby Kristensen, Deputy Director, Center for Military Studies, University of Copenhagen

The existence of a community of veterans is, for the Danish political community, a new thing. Taking departure in the political negotiations concerning the duties of the Danish state in relation to the Afghan interpreters employed in Danish operations in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan, the presentation explores how veterans are becoming a powerful voice shaping public discourse and government action.


Keynote Lectures – Friday, 9th of December, 2016 – 09:00-11:00, DPU, building D, room 174

Lecture 4: Challenging bodies. Methodological aspects of historical approaches to the experience of war disability

Sabine Kienitz, Professor of European Ethnology, Universität Hamburg

The experience of having an invalid or even disabled body as an outcome of the participation in warring contexts is a major point in dealing with ethnographic research practices on soldier and veteran sociality. Coping mentally with physical and psychological injuries in the sense of today’s understanding normally means talking about and thus reflecting on one’s own individual perspective. But how can we address historical experiences of becoming a “war cripple”, and in what range is there any (auto-)biographical material available to reconstruct and to understand everyday life perspectives of those affected? The lecture will discuss the methodological problems of dealing with these archival, institutional and literary types of historical sources and with the question of how to transfer and link those historical insights to the present.


Lecture 5: ‘You just have to be willing to get your hands dirty’: military fitness, physical culture, and being (post-)military

Kevin McSorley, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Portsmouth

This paper explores the embodied regimes, experiences and interactions between civilians and post-military personnel that occur in the emergent leisure spaces of commercial military fitness. I argue that commercial military fitness involves a rearticulation and repurposing of collective military discipline within a particular late modern physical culture that prioritizes the individual body as a site of self-discovery and personal responsibility. Nonetheless, I suggest that traditional disciplinary critiques and conceptual vocabularies of militarism and militarisation often lack purchase when considering phenomena such as military fitness. Taking such work in hybrid civilian-military sites of physical culture and transformation as a particular point of departure, the final part of the paper then reflects more widely upon some of the methodological and analytic sensibilities that may potentially be helpful when researching the complex entanglements of contemporary post-military lives.