MWC Special Issue (9:1): Contemporary Soldiering

Volume 9, Issue 1, April 2016

Contemporary Soldiering, self-representation and popular culture’


Sarah Maltby, School of Media, Film and Music. University of Sussex
Katy Parry, School of Media and Communication. University of Leeds
Read the Editorial Introduction Here




“They Need Our Help”: The role of non-governmental organizations in the depoliticization of conflict
Katharine Millar

The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan spurred a range of popular activity – from anti-war protests to war boosterism to veterans’ advocacy – purporting to “support the troops”. Non-governmental organizations, from veterans’ welfare organizations to anti-war groups, are crucial to this transformation of “the troops” into a social cause and matter of collective concern. As such, this article proposes an initial qualification of NGO representative practices as a form of media genre, characterized by striking similarity in presentation, structure, and particularly explicitly normative tone. A poststructural discursive approach is utilized to examine the implications of this genre for the production of subjectivities and power relations inherent to “supporting the troops” via a structured analysis of the public-produced texts of a selection of typologically-identified NGOs in the United States and United Kingdom. The article goes on to highlight the ways in which NGO representations counterintuitively objectify those they seek to support, while simultaneously limiting the political possibilities of supporters. Overall, it is argued that within the context of the liberal state, the representations of support produced across the advocacy spectrum work to not only depoliticize conflict but to “apoliticize” support for the troops as a matter of morality.

Mortars and Memes: Participating in pop culture from a war zone
Lisa Silvestri (@LisaESilvestri)

These wars have been mediated more than any other conflict in history (Berenger 2004). Just as television defined Vietnam and the first Gulf war, the internet is defining what we know, see, and remember about Iraq and Afghanistan. A handful of communication scholars have begun to pay attention to the way personnel represent themselves online, arguing that warrior-produced videos offer an alternative to the military-media control over information (Andén-Papadopoulos 2009; Smith and MacDonald 2011; Silvestri 2013). This paper takes up internet meme videos as mediated forms of cultural participation, arguing that the compulsion for US troops to create meme videos is fueled in part by the technology and in part by the popular culture they still interact with.

Listen to Lisa’s video abstract:


Milblogs and Soldier Representations of the Afghanistan War: the case of Sweden
Maria Hellman @AnnaMariaHellma

Building on the notion that military blogs can support national strategic narratives (Hellman and Wagnsson, 2013), the aim of the article is to deepen our knowledge about how more precisely blogging that depict soldiers’ personal experiences of ‘everyday life’ can serve to support a strategic narrative. The article explores empirically, how Swedish milblogs published between January 2010 and April 2012 articulate their experiences of being soldiers in the Afghanistan mission. The analysis shows that soldiering is treated as an everyday practice, de-dramatized and routinized where military assignments are meshed with civilian duties. The article concludes that the ‘normalisation’ of war in milblogs can potentially serve to strengthen national strategic narratives, facilitate recruitment of soldiers and add to a growing ‘militarism’ (Woodward and Jenkings, 2012) in society.


Authoring the self: media, voice and testimony in soldiers’ memoirs
Lilie Chouliaraki

Drawing on memoirs and milblogs, two distinct media platforms that enable the articulation of voice, testimony and memory, this paper explores how soldiers’ testimonies of combat death catalyze processes of self-representation, at two crucial military moments: the industrialized warfare of early 20th century and the information warfare of early 21st.


Media and violent conflict: Halil Dağ, Kurdish insurgency, and the hybridity of vernacular media of conflict
Kevin Smets (@kevinsmets) and Ahmet Hamdi Akkaya

This paper analyses the life and work of Halil Dağ (1973-2008), a filmmaker who worked within the Kurdish insurgent movement, with two critical goals. First, we use Dağ’s case to conceptualize vernacular cinema of conflict, defying traditional dichotomies between mainstream/vernacular, and fiction/non-fiction. Secondly, through Dağ’s case we seek to better understand the role of vernacular cinema of conflict for the Kurdish culture of resistance and the PKK insurgent movement in particular. Empirically, the article discusses unique ethnographic records (interviews and personal correspondence with Dağ) and a qualitative content analysis of his major films. We argue that the concept of vernacular cinema of conflict can serve a better comprehension of the hybrid character and impact of filmmaking in conflict zones.


(Extra)ordinary Portraits: Self-representation, public culture and the contemporary British soldier
Katy Parry (@reticentk) and Nancy Thumim (@nancett)

This article explores the contemporary image of the British soldier, especially where the opportunity for soldiers to tell their own stories is highlighted as the core justification in the presentation of co-produced materials. We consider the particular generic affordances, constraints, and aesthetics of two recent projects, Our War (BBC 3) and War Story (Imperial War Museum), both of which hope to offer a ‘direct’ insight into soldiers’ experiences in Afghanistan, albeit through the lenses of public institutions which inevitably come with their own interpretive frameworks. At the heart of the study are the concept of self-representation and the idea of the portrait. We examine recurrent themes, styles of portrayal, and notable absences, asking, for example: how do the different dimensions of mediation constitute the soldiers as ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’? We argue that it is theoretically and empirically productive to analyse the two projects together as interconnected forms of a ‘genre of self- representation’ (Thumim 2012).