Military landscapes

This work is based on an observation about the ubiquity of military landscapes - landscapes that become military through the obvious and seemingly permanent presence of military-related buildings, infrastructure and activities, all of which leave their traces. But it is also informed by the idea that landscapes become militarized, in that markers of military activities appear and disappear, changing our perceptions and responses to landscapes through this presence and subsequent disappearance.

This work is underpinned by the idea that there are different ways of approaching military landscapes. One approach is to see military landscapes as assemblages of military materials, artefacts, structures and infrastructures which stamp a visible presence and which invite a reading of the landscape in terms of the power that is played out across this space. The task here is to consider not just how a landscape looks and feels - what is the experience, for example, of Army wives living in or next to military bases? - but also to think about a wider politics around military presence.

A second idea is of military readings of landscapes, of landscapes as terrain and environment which serve military purposes at a strategic and tactical level. The reading and interpretation of landscapes by military personnel is of interest to those wanting to explore how land or terrain is seen, understood and controlled. Military representations of landscape can be read for what they tell us about the conceptualisation of space by armed forces.

A third approach is to look military landscapes in terms of the visual and textual responses that military landscapes invoke. Military landscapes have long provided photographers and other visual artists with a subject through which contemporary social concerns can be explored. Examples here would include John Kippin's photographic residency at Greenham Common, Ingrid Book and Carina Héden's photographs of Norwegian military bases and training areas, and Gair Dunlop's photographic and video responses to redundant military bases in the UK. Military landscapes have long provided inspiration to writers seeking to unpack the politics of the present through the signs of military activities now and in the past - think of W.G. Sebald or of memoirs of war by soldiers and journalists. War films, too, provide readings of the military landscapes of the battlefield.

This work is on-going. Rachel Woodward is considering how to write about the military landscapes of northern Britain following fieldwork there in 2009 and 2011. Ann Murphy is exploring military landscapes with Army wives (see below). Alison Williams is thinking about landscapes and airspaces in the context of her work on the geographies of military airspace and aviation. Matthew Rech is writing about the landscapes of RAF recruitment, broadly defined, following fieldwork around air shows and county shows in Britain in 2009.

Army wives and the military landscape

Ann Murphy, a postgraduate research student who is writing a PhD entitled 'Married to the Military: Space, place and identity issues of army spouses', is conducting this research. This research will explore on how women (and men) who are married to serving members of the British Army see their roles and their lives in the context of the militarized landscapes in which they live.

Rationale for the research

This research stems from an observation about the contribution that the spouses of military personnel make to the work of armed forces. The position of the military wife and of the families of personnel is an ambiguous one. Although they are intimately associated with the armed forces, they maintain identities as civilians and are not themselves members of the forces. Although there is increasing attention at a policy-making level to the conditions under which military spouses and their families live, with a few notable exceptions there has been little explicit research to date that has looked directly at Army wives themselves. (Although the term 'army wife' is used throughout the research, it recognises of course that many of these issues also affect men married to serving soldiers.)

What this research will do

The research looks at how army wives see their roles and the contributions that they make to military life. The research is interested in a specific question about the landscapes in which this group of women live. Living in families housing, which may be inside or alongside the perimeter wire, the research is investigating how these women view the militarized landscapes inside and beyond their homes, and how their sense of self is influenced by their sense of place. Using photo-elicitation, diaries and interviews, this research is developing a range of ideas about the effects and consequences of living in a militarized landscape. This landscape is a gendered one, in which men and women live and work in different spaces and to different ends. The key question underpinning this research is about how civilian wives' experiences are shaped by living within these gendered, militarized spaces.

Further information about this project can be found here. This three-year research project started in January 2007, and is funded by an Economic and Social Research Council studentship. Prior to doing this research, Ann's MA research dissertation explored the social position of the Army wife.


Military landscapes and the photography of Ingrid Book and Carina Héden

Ingrid Book and Carina Héden, two photographers working currently in Norway and Sweden, were commissioned by the Norwegian ministry of defence to undertake a photographic residency in Reiner Leir military camp in 2005. This work, and subsequent photographic journeys through military bases and training areas across Norway, produced a body of work which was chosen as key exhibition for the Bergen International Festival in 2008. The catalogue for the exhibition Military Landscapes, containing the photographs and also essays by Sverker Sörlin, Halvor Haugen, Ekaterina Degot and Rachel Woodward has also been published.

Rachel Woodward was invited by Ingrid and Carina to take part in a symposium at the Bergen International Festival, and her responses are available in the publications section of this website.