This guest blog post was written by Dr Emma Long, ESRC-funded Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of York. Her research is focused on the sociological analysis of welfare provided to non-serving military partners – particularly around deployment periods. She is the co-founder of the ‘Rethinking Military Spouses: Critical Research Group’. You can see the group’s website here.   

I am currently working on my ESRC-funded Postdoctoral Fellowship titled ‘Bringing the Homefront to the Forefront: Examining welfare policy and provision through centring the lived experiences of military partners’. A significant part of this one-year project aims to build collaborative networks between academics who adopt a critical approach towards understanding not only the lived experiences of military spouses and partners, but also the ways in which they are entangled with forms of power including militarism.

As a result of the discussions between myself and colleague Dr Alice Cree (NUAcT Fellow, Newcastle University), in April 2021 we set up a meeting with other early career academics researching military spouses. At this meeting, I was surprised by how excited we all were to have a space dedicated to critical discussions. We valued the opportunity to reflect on the implications that our positionality and research decisions might have upon the ways in which we talk about military spouses, conclusions we can draw, and the different ways impact might be sought. From this first meeting our ‘Rethinking Military Spouses: Critical Research Group’ was born. Our group is focused on developing novel critical insights pertaining to military spouses. It is a collaborative endeavour where activities are driven by members’ research interests.

Currently, our membership consists of early career academics from a variety of disciplines including sociology, geography, law, psychology, health studies, and international relations. Some of us are members of the military community, as partners, or having previously served. There is no doubt that these various encounters with the military, whether we consider ourselves to be insiders, partial-insiders, or outsiders, adds additional nuance and complexity in terms of our research priorities and the discussions that we have with each other. You can read more about each of our members and their research projects here.

Broadly we are interested in the critical analysis of:

  • Military spouses’ lived experiences of, for example, deployments, communities, welfare provision, and divorce.
  • The ways military spouses are represented and understood across different social, cultural, and political contexts.
  • How military spouses’ practical and emotional labour relates to military objectives.
  • The relationship between military spouses, the military, and the wider state.

We are particularly interested in exploring the challenges and opportunities relating to:

  • Rethinking homogenous framings of military spouses.
  • Creative methodologies, maximising impact, and related implications.
  • Our encounters with the military community.
  • What is means to be critical.

Whilst each of us are aligned with critical military studies approaches, we recognise and embrace the different ways in which we position ourselves and our research along this continuum of criticality. This became particularly clear during one meeting when we reflected on the insightful article ‘What is Critical Military Studies‘ written by Dr Victoria Basham, Professor Aaron Belkin and Dr Jess Gifkins, and we discussed what critical research means to us and our work with military spouses. We considered the challenges encountered conducting critical research whilst bearing in mind funders’ increasing focus on pathways to impact. Through our discussions we found that each of us thinks about criticality in different ways which has different implications for our research approach and anticipated outcomes. Some of our group members have written a short blog on these reflections which you can read here.

Although we have only been established since April 2021 we have been incredibly active – we have established our aims, objectives, and purpose; published our group website; organised discussions on criticality and an upcoming one on ethics; co-hosted a Twitter Hour on military spouses with the Defence Research Network; and written our aforementioned blog on criticality.

Furthermore, by no means a small feat, Dr Alice Cree, Donna Crowe-Urbaniak (Senior Research Associate, University of Bristol and PhD Researcher, University of Exeter) and I organised and hosted a webinar on the 9th July 2021 titled ‘Bringing the Homefront to the Forefront: UK perspectives on critical research with military spouses’. Speakers contributed pre-recorded research videos outlining their projects, questions, methodologies, key findings, and implications. In different ways, all speakers aimed to better understand spouses’ and partners’ lived experiences and entanglement with military life, processes, and / or power. This was followed by a live discussion event, brilliantly chaired by Dr Nick Caddick (Associate Professor, Anglia Ruskin University), where speakers further considered issues relating to recruitment, methodologies, impact, and criticality. The research videos and a recording of the live discussion are available here and we will shortly be publishing a report outlining the key issues encountered by critical research pertaining to military spouses.

The Rethinking Military Spouses Critical Research Group looks forward to continuing to work together in the foreseeable and I am grateful for everyone’s hard work making this possible!

If you would like to know more, or would be interested in joining our group, please get in contact via this email address: critmilspouse@gmail.com and / or follow us on Twitter @CriticalSpouse