‘When he’s in Afghanistan it’s like our world/his world’: mediating military experience

January, 2017

In this article, we explore the reactions of serving military personnel, veterans and military spouses to a selection of recent popular media portrayals of military experience in the early 21st century. In the UK context, over the past decade, such mediations of military experience have arguably been shaped by efforts to repair a perceived ‘gulf’ in understanding between the military and the public (Dannatt, 2007). In the context of ongoing heated political, societal and cultural debates on civil–military relations, we explore how members of the military community critically respond to media materials and position their own experiences alongside and against such portrayals.

In asking our participants to respond to popular media texts – in this case of comedy and documentary genres – we aimed to gain insights into how they engaged with notions of ‘militariness’ (the quality of being military) and ‘post-militariness’ (the persistence of military identity for veterans), as represented through recognisable tropes of the British armed forces in the media (uniforms, language, humour, professional expertise), and measured against their own experience.


This article reports on a qualitative research project which invited those with direct experience – as serving personnel involved in media operations, military veterans and forces family members – to respond to a variety of media genres and discuss how such portrayals of military experience correspond with their own perceptions and their own representational practices. It is our contention that such mediations offer significant and interconnected spaces through which to explore negotiations of the meanings of military experience in contemporary public culture. Drawing on thematic analysis from our focus groups, we address a number of research questions: In what ways do the participants identify and engage with the various media portrayals, and how do they think this relates to the perceived public profile of the armed forces? How do they assess the capability of media texts to provide insights into the ‘realities’ of military experience (including emotionally charged moments of camaraderie and trauma)? In the multiple challenges and ambiguities heard within our groups, we find complex and troubled senses of ‘militariness’, bound up with sometimes intense affectivities.

Full Reference

Parry, K., & Thumim, N. (2017). ‘When he’s in Afghanistan it’s like our world/his world’: mediating military experience. Media, Culture & Society, 39(1), 29–44.

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