Militarisation, universities and the university armed service units

August, 2017

This article explores the concept of militarisation and how it can manifest within university settings.


This paper asks what militarisation looks like when encountered in university settings, using the example of the UK university armed service units. It identifies a specific definition of militarisation, which is then used as a framework to explore the USUs. The USUs have been subject to critique as emblematic of militarisation, and thus problematic. The paper looks at practices where militarisation can be identified as evident on university campuses, such as in disciplinary engagements with military institutions and activities, as well as flows of funding and knowledge. We show how the military-university nexus problematizes the idea of separate and distinctive military and civilian spheres which pervades much of the discourse around military involvement at universities, and highlight the generative and creative capabilities of militarisation as co-constituted within the military-university nexus. The paper then examines in detail how the process of militarisation works in practice through the USUs. This confirms the importance of individual agency to a conceptualisation of militarisation. In conclusion, we argue for the continued utility of process-focussed understandings of militarisation which emphasise how such processes are generative of social relations. We emphasise the necessity of capturing the nuance and complexity through which processes work not least around the engagements of people as active agents with such processes. We also note the potential significance of scale to future conceptualisations of militarisation.

Full Reference

Woodward, R., Jenkings, N., Williams, A. J., 2017. Militarisation, universities and the university armed service units. Political Geography, 60. doi:

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