Taking the Middle Ground: UK Reservists As Depoliticised Ideological Actors

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:45
Oral Presentation
Antonia DAWES, London School of Economics, United Kingdom
Tim EDMUNDS, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
Paul HIGATE, University of Bath, United Kingdom
Rachel WOODWARD, Newcastle University, UK, United Kingdom
K. JENKINGS, Newcastle University, United Kingdom
Over the last decade, political campaigns for greater public valorisation of the UK military have happened against a backdrop of significant defence cutbacks. One of the key aspects of UK Army 2020, the Army’s response to the government’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, has been to promise a large-scale reduction of the regular personnel that are to be replaced by an increased and fully-integrated reservist force. Beyond this being a cost-cutting measure it has also been the hope that reservists might play an important role as positive mediators between civilian and military experiences and perspectives (Edmunds et al. 2014). This aspiration is reflected by the scholarly literature on reservist identities which describes them as ‘trans-migrants’ (Lomsky-Feder 2007), or people who are both particular citizens and particular soldiers (Griffith 2009), and whose lives continually cross between their different occupations. We conducted in-depth, longitudinal interviews and focus groups with military reservists over a 2 year period. This paper makes use of data where interviewees reflect upon their political awareness, motivations and commitments in the light of their experiences crossing military and civilian divides. Whilst there is some literature about regular soldiers as ideologically-informed actors (Guttman and Lutz 2010; Weiss 2014; Gibson and Abell), there is less understanding about the ideological positioning of reservists. The paper argues that reservists often view themselves as having a more informed and open perspective about contemporary social, political, economic and military conflicts than the regular forces or other civilians. However, their commentary often jars with an individualised and generally apolitical motivation for joining the reserves. Whilst also opening up possibilities for dissent and critique, this disconnect blurs the distinction between the spaces and actors involved in war and peace, resulting in the depoliticising and obfuscating of war’s effects (Higate et al. forthcoming).