Alternate spaces of war 1914-2014

German 'sound radar' 1917

Via the War & Media Network, news of an international, interdisciplinary conference on ‘Alternate spaces of war, 1914 to the present’, to be held at Plymouth University (I think) in the UK, 6-7 July 2015.

The aim is ‘to investigate alternate spaces of war and identify new ways of understanding the experience of conflict in the modern world’:

‘This event will be organised as a part of the AHRC funded ‘Alternate Spaces’ Network set up in 2014. By expanding the timescale of the project to include the last century we are seeking to develop the ideas and outcomes of the initial network project to further investigate the legacy of the First World War in contemporary society.’

Keynote speakers:  Stephen Badsey (University of Wolverhampton); Krista Cowman (University of Lincoln); Martin Hurcombe (University of Bristol); and Mary Brewer (University of Loughborough)

Possible topics include:

Alternate viewings of the Western Front

Alternate Theatres of World War

Global implications of local conflicts since 1914

Civilians’ experience of war


Domestic Spaces in Wartime

Colonial spaces

Children’s experience of war

War in 21st Century

Literary representations of war

War and life writings

Visual cultures of war

Abstracts (2-300 words) plus a short bio (100 words) should be sent by 5 January 2015 to Angela K. Smith (, Sandra Barkhof ( and Cherry Walsh (

Security by remote control

Security by remote control

News from Lucy Suchman that the website for the Security by Remote Control conference at Lancaster, 22-23 May, is now live here.  It will be enhanced and updated as the symposium approaches – including programme details: I’m still thinking over what I might present – but registration is open now.

Despite investment in new technologies, the legitimacy and efficacy of actions taken in the name of security is increasingly in question. In April of 2013 a coalition led by Human Rights Watch initiated a campaign in favour of a legally binding prohibition on the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapon systems. Simultaneously, some military and robotics experts argue that equipping robots with the capacity to make ethical judgments is an achievable technological goal. Within these debates, the ‘human in the loop’ is posited alternately as the safeguard against illegitimate killing, or its source. Implicit across the debate is the premise of a moment of decision in which judgements of identification and appropriate response are made. This symposium will focus on on the troubling space between automation and autonomy, to understand more deeply their intimate relations, and the inherent contradictions that conjoin them.

Sensing war

News from Kevin McSorley of a really interesting conference next summer which I’m going to try desperately hard to attend.  Full details at


Sensing War

International Interdisciplinary Conference, 12 – 13th June 2014, London, UK

War is a crucible of sensory experience and its lived affects radically transform ways of being in the world.  It is prosecuted, lived and reproduced through a panoply of sensory apprehensions, practices and ‘sensate regimes of war’ (Judith Butler 2012) – from the tightly choreographed rhythms of patrol to the hallucinatory suspicions of night vision; from the ominous mosquito buzz of drones to the invasive scrape of force-feeding tubes; from the remediation of visceral helmetcam footage to the anxious tremors of the IED detector; from the desperate urgencies of triage to the precarious intimacies of care; from the playful grasp of children’s war-toys to the feel of cold sweat on a veteran’s skin.

Recognising the recent growth of ground-breaking work on the senses across the humanities and social sciences, Sensing War aims to bring together researchers from a wide variety of disciplines to foster creative dialogue and critical exploration of the multiple and shifting relationships between war and sensation.  What concepts, resources and methods does the sensuous turn in scholarship offer to further our understandings of the myriad experiences of war and militarism?  How is war sensed by and for the drone operator, the occupied population, the female engagement team, the insurgent, the medic, the refugee, the veteran, the military family, the arms fair delegate, the war tourist, the video-gamer, the artist?  As war continuously shape-shifts, bleeding across the global flows of late modernity, how might attentiveness to sensory experience help us to rethink its genealogy and ontology?  How might we enable innovative and critical sensory engagements with war that allow us to see, hear, sense and understand it anew?

We invite contributions that engage with the topic of Sensing War widely and creatively.  Potential themes may include, but are not limited to:

•   Sensing bodies, technologies and environments of war

•   Sensory and scopic regimes and counter-regimes of war

•   The militarization of sensation

•   War politics and the distribution of the sensible

•   Military orientalism, the colonial nervous system and the empire of the senses

•   Touch/smell/sound/vision/tastes of war

•   Rhythms, movements and kinaesthetics of war

•   The sensory and affective grammar of everyday life in wartime

•   Sensuous war/play

•   Sensation-seeking, extremity, craving and addiction in warfighting

•   Sensing the shadows of war

•   Sensory resonances and aftermaths of war

•   Gender, class, race, sexuality, disability and sensations of war

•   War sensation and activist practice

•   Doing sensuous ethnographies, sociologies, geographies and histories of war

Please send paper abstracts (max 500 words), or details of other proposed contributions, together with brief biographical details, by 14th February 2014 to:

All proposals are subject to a review process.  We aim to publish selected papers from the conference as a special themed issue of a relevant journal and an edited collection.

Please address any other queries to Kevin McSorley at

Academic Committee:

Kevin McSorley, Sociology, University of Portsmouth

Debbie Lisle, International Relations, Queens University Belfast

Tara Woodyer, Geography, University of Portsmouth

Holger Pötzsch, Media & Culture, University of Tromsø

Joseph Burridge, Sociology, University of Portsmouth

Deadly Embrace: the sawn-off version

I’ve added a revised version of my Keynote Address to the IGC in Cologne last August to the DOWNLOADS page.  This version will appear in the Conference Proceedings, but if you download it please bear in mind that this is a preliminary and highly compressed version of part of the argument I’ve been developing in my presentations under the general heading “Deadly Embrace: war, distance and intimacy”.  I’m working on a much longer version, which will see all three of the main sections in the Keynote (news, logistics, weapons) greatly expanded and a new section (on intelligence) added.  I’m aware that I need to say much more about contemporary news coverage of distant wars than I do here; I think I have the arguments about contemporary logistics and weapons more or less sorted, but I’m still reading and thinking about our own sensibility towards distant violence.  And in order to live up to the subtitle I’ll also say much more about the dialectic between distance and intimacy.

Deadly Embrace TITLE.001

I’ve trailed some of the ideas in previous posts here and here.

The result is likely to be a long essay (with many illustrations) so I have no idea what I’m going to do with it — probably incorporate it into a book that will include other essays on the genealogy of what I’m now calling later modern war (partly because I think, for all the continuities, there are also significant differences between wars in the first half of the twentieth century and today’s military and paramilitary violence, and partly because I really don’t want to treat this as ‘postmodern’ war).  I’ll post a manuscript version as soon as it’s ready since, as always, I would really value comments,criticisms and suggestions.  I hope, too, that this substantive inquiry will also have something to say about theorisations of space – something I only gesture towards in this conference version.

The invisible war

Kirby Dick’s – and Amy Ziering’s – documentary film The invisible war (2011) recently won the Audience Award at the Sundance Festival and the Nestor Almendros Award at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.  It documents, in brave detail, the incidence of rape inside the US military.  The film-makers contacted more than 100 victims, men as well as women.  The Department of Defense estimates that there were 19,000 violent sex crimes inside the military in 2010 and 22,800 in 2011; the vast majority go unreported, and of those that are there are few convictions.  Women in combat zones are more likely to be raped than killed by the enemy, but the attacks also take place far from the firing-line: on bases in the continental United States, at barracks in Washington DC.

There are powerful, thoughtful reviews of this film – including essays by Rose Aguilar, David Leonard and Marcia Yerman – and its achievements are substantial.  Gary Trudeau saw The invisible war at a special screening and used a series of Doonesbury cartoons to bring the issue to a wider public, while Rebecca Keegan reports that two days after Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta saw the film he called a press conference ‘to announce new rules on how the Pentagon would handle sex crimes.’

And yet, across all the reviews I’ve read, there’s a strange reluctance to link rape inside the military to the rape by soldiers of enemy combatants and civilians.  There is a substantial literature on rape as a weapon of war – on rape as a systematic strategy – but what I have in mind here is a structural connection between the power and cruelty involved in rape and forms of military violence. This is obviously a differentiated terrain; there was a good roundtable discussion raising a number of important issues in Eurozine in 2009, the same year that Helen Benedict’s searing account of The lonely soldier: the private war of women serving in Iraq appeared.  You can find a video of her talk at Columbia here, and there is also this short interview:

Among more recent book-length treatments I’d recommend Janie Leatherman’s Sexual violence and armed conflict (Polity, 2011), Part III of Laura Sjoberg and Sandra Via (eds), Gender, war and militarism: feminist perspectives (Praeger, 2010), and a compelling study that makes the connection between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ military rape that I’m urging here, Gina Marie Weaver’s Ideologies of forgetting: rape in the Vietnam War (SUNY Press, 2010).  Making those connections is one way of making war’s injuries, both there and here, abroad and at home, more visible – and those who perpetrate them more accountable.  Eight years after Abu Ghraib you’d think we’d have made more progress in exploring the relations between military violence and sexual violence.

Three additional notes: 

(1) On Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week (13 through 17 August) YouTube has a new three-part drama series on sexual assault in the US military, Lauren: I found news of this on Stars & Stripes, ‘the US military’s independent news source’….

(2)  Earlier this month al Jazeera hosted a discussion of military ‘cultures of rape’ between Morris Davis, a retired US air force colonel who led the investigation into the sexual abuse scandal at the US Air Force Academy in 2003; Ariana Klay, a former US Marine Officer, who is one of eight current and former military members who have filed a lawsuit alleging they were raped, assaulted, or harassed during their service; and Aaron Belkin, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University and the author of Bring Me Men: Military Masculinity and the Benign Façade of American Empire, 1898-2001.

(3) Belkin’s Bring Me Men (Columbia University Press, 2012) documents male-on-male rape in the US military and en route challenges a number of existing discussions of ‘military masculinity’:  “I argue in Bring Me Men that contradictions that structure warrior masculinity look a lot like contradictions that structure U.S. empire, and that both sets of contradictions get sanitized and swept out of sight at the same moments, often by outcasts (African-Americans, women, gays and lesbians) who portray the military and the empire in noble terms as part of inclusion-seeking strategies.”  You can download the first chapter from Belkin’s own website.