While military lived experience may help, it may also create some bias. I have seen several veteran researchers for whom their work appeared to be a form of catharsis. I do think that a genuine empathy for those being researched is helpful as a motivator.
Q3 – What makes a good academic in this military/veterans/families research world?
Traditionally, and in my opinion, I have found that when people explore the armed forces/military agenda they appear to have looked at the group as a uniformed collective, which in some cases is useful depending on what type of research you’re doing such as a quantitative study and collecting data. But if you are looking more holistically at a research study to explore the narratives behind the data, it is essential, and in my own opinion, to look beyond the uniform and take a person-centred approach which would normally lead to a more qualitative research model. Listening to the stories provides those moments of gold and other areas of interest in my opinion. A key one for me here was thinking about the statement often heard “civvies don’t understand”. I thought why do veterans say that, where does it originate from and why is such an emotive response?
This led to going behind the statement and looking for the origins that were laid down in the very first months and years when serving in the military. I could then apply several explorative ideas and theories to see how being in the military related too, and in fact formed the human experience.
Here, it is also useful to interact with the person from two viewpoints.
Recognise the shared experience around military culture and core values that everyone in the military environment collectively embraces, and which I’ll talk about in another answer, and also the individual’s perspective, as the reality of it is, is that everyone who joins the military is first and foremost a human being who at some point in their life has chosen for various reasons to put on a uniform. By doing this it opens much more choice for the researcher as many more themes and theories can contribute to the research.
In my own work I recognise that when people join the military, they will generally be within Erikson’s stage 5 of human development (roughly 15 – 21) where a sense of identity and self are being created. If we all think back to that age most of us could not be told anything, we had an opinion about everything and had raging hormones racing all around!!
I also use Maslow’s hierarchy of need to demonstrate how the military successfully populates all human needs, somewhere to live, friends, identity, belonging, food, water, sense of purpose, structure, and security. Put this within a military bubble called ‘behind the wire’ and this can demonstrate how in some ways civilian life can quite literally pass military people by but when leaving the military there may be a sense of culture shock (for this I use Adler 1975) a need to repopulate the hierarchy of need (which most of us all do from time to time), and the need to create a new civilian identity. In addition, if people join up within Eriksons stage 5 of development it shows that most service leavers may have never been a working age civilian so the civilian workplace may look very different as the military core values may be defined differently or appear less important to the service leaver.
For those of you who are ex Armed Forces think time keeping as an example here or waiting for people or organisations to make a decision, I’m pretty confident that these are some of the first irritations you experienced when transitioning and why you are always 10 minutes early for everything and more than happy to make decisions. Why do I say this because I also experienced this and I’m not the only one. I will come to this later when I discuss CDRILS.
Therefore, by overlooking the individual and their families, the nuances and emotional aspects of transitioning to civilian life can be missed and actually reinforce the commonly heard phrase “civvies they don’t understand” when in fact even if someone is not from a military background they can still emphasise because being a human being also they will have experienced other forms of transition and adjustment such as; changing your employment, having promotion and more responsibility, new relationships or somewhere new to live. And importantly, know how that felt to them.
Therefore, by taking a person-centred approach and viewing service people and their families as human beings first, we can at the very least know how positive and sometimes negative life changes can feel especially around transition and adjustment to new environments and how these can be overwhelming in some case.
So, here’s a thought, amplify that feeling by a 1000% and imagine not knowing why we may feel like that as emotions and feelings haven’t necessarily been discussed within our environments or even seen in some cases perceived or worried that they may be perceived as a weakness, and this can give us an indication of how some service leavers and their families may feel when leaving the armed forces environment.
Interested in your take on this Nick. As with many fields, a lot of researchers in the military/veterans sphere have lived experience, and as Alex said I think this can have both advantages and disadvantages. As a researchers who entered the field with a background in something completely different, it has taken me a while to feel comfortable with terminology etc and my understanding of the military culture. I’ve also been told by other researchers with lived experience or a military family background that they felt this allowed them to easily develop a rapport with participants once they were aware of their shared experience.
Like what you say Nick and I echo Lauren’s remark that those with a military background can more easily develop a rapport with veteran interviewees – because the interviewer (appearing as a civilian) DOES understand. I experienced this when trying to find participants for my research thesis. Initially I described myself as a post Grad student at Leics Uni, when I expanded this to include the fact that I had completed 25 years military service – the flood gates opened.
I’ve come into the military and veterans sphere as researcher, without having personal lived experience also.
I was wondering and based off Lauren’s comments too, in terms of building rapport and trust, what do people think is the best approach to take to avoid being a civvy who doesn’t understand?
For example, whilst it is best to try and be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible. If a researcher was to encounter and new unfamiliar term during interviews. Is it most appropriate to be transparent and ask the interviewee directly what this phrase means or seek advice from those/colleagues with lived experience after? Would this honesty be alienating or build trust? And other situations like this.
Trust is the key here, its one of the core values as is Honesty. Veterans generally always respect (another one by the way) honesty and someone not trying to say they do understand their lifestyle when they may not be able too. I can only speak for myself here but if you are honest and say that you don’t have a background in the military but with their help would like to get a better understanding most will be responsive to you as they know you’re being truthful with them. This all reflects back to military CDRILS again and how deeply they run. Veterans usually want to pay something back into the community so if it about helping someone get that better awareness it means the Armed Forces Community will benefit, back to the sense of family here. What I will tell you it may take a little longer than with someone whose not from a military background so just expect it, but when they trust you, you will be accepted I’ve seen it happen. If the banter starts and you’re brought into it, in a nice way of course.. YOURE IN, and they work with you, we’re a loyal bunch you know : )