Camouflaging Culture: Soft Power and the Forever Wars

Camouflaging Culture Soft Power and the Forever Wars

  • 18 June 2021
  • 10:00 - 16:30
  • FREE
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Hosted by the Culture and Conflict Research Group, Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, University of Portsmouth

Under the nebulous aims of the so-called Forever Wars of the twenty-first century, armed forces and weapons industries have increasingly outsourced the battle for hearts and minds. Collaborations between military interests and forms of ‘soft’, cultural power involve not only innovators in games and other visual technologies, but also practitioners and scholars in the arts, humanities and the social sciences.

Culture has long been recruited to help overcome popular resistance to violence, occupation and imperialism, or to manage the resulting harm to minds and bodies. In public discourse, however, the cynical realism and sombre remembrance that arose from the undeniable horrors of 20th-century mass combat have given way to the resurgence of a more 19th-century style of romantic militarism.

An older rhetoric of heroism and the nation-bonding, character-building effects of martial training and service (especially for marginalized identities) has once again become rampant, if not officially, at least in social and mainstream media. This symposium will examine continuities and change in the militarization of culture, and assess the challenges that the present situation presents to the development of peace, equality and justice.


1000 Introduction: Dr Marius Kwint

1015 Keynote 1: Vron Ware (Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, Kingston University)

Vron Ware is a writer and photographer based in London and south west England, and professor of sociology and gender studies at Kingston University. Her work, encompassing feminism, colonialism, ecology and the politics of anti-racism and anti-militarism, has been published over four decades and includes Beyond the Pale: white women, racism and history (1992/2015) and Military Migrants: Fighting for YOUR Country (2012).

1120 Break

1130 Panel 1: Militarizing the Public Domain

  • Dr Paul Flenley (Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of Portsmouth) - The Militarisation of Russian Public Discourse since the Cold War
  • Malak Mayet (Universities Coordinator, Campaign Against the Arms Trade) - The Arms Industry and UK Higher Education
  • Claire Udy (Master’s student, University of Portsmouth) - Lived Experience of Martial Portsmouth

Chair: Dr Olly Gruner (Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture, University of Portsmouth)

Discussion (30 mins)

1300 Lunch break

1330 Panel 2: Theatres of War

  • Dr Louis Netter (Senior Lecturer in Illustration, University of Portsmouth) and Dr Olly Gruner (Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture, University of Portsmouth) - "A War You Won't Believe": Rambo in Contemporary Cultural Politics
  • Dr Matt Alford (Teaching Fellow in Politics, University of Bath) - We Need to Talk About The Conversation (15 mins)
  • Dr Stephen Harper (Senior Lecturer in Media Studies, University of Portsmouth) Girls on a Mission: Feminism, Humanitarianism and the War on Terror in Our Girl (BBC 2013-)

Chair: Dr Tom Sykes (Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, University of Portsmouth)

Discussion (30 mins)

1500 Keynote 2: Milan Rai (peace activist and author)

Milan Rai has been the editor of the London-based peace movement paper Peace News (which he used to sell in school as a teenager) since 2007. He’s the author of four books: Chomsky’s Politics (Verso, 1995); War Plan Iraq: 10 Reasons Against War with Iraq (Verso, 2002); Regime Unchanged: Why the War on Iraq Changed Nothing (Pluto, 2003), and 7/7: The London Bombings, Islam and the Iraq War (Pluto, 2006). He self-published Tactical Trident: The Rifkind Doctrine and the Third World (1992). He has contributed chapters on Noam Chomsky to several collections including The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky (Cambridge University Press, 2005). Rai was formerly involved in nonviolent direct action, including in the London anti-war affinity group ARROW (1990-2003) and Voices in the Wilderness UK, which organised British sanctions-breaking delegations to Iraq (1998-2003). He has been in prison in the UK four times for his opposition to war and sanctions.

1620 Round-up

1630 Close

Image: Gassed, by John Singer Sargent, 1919 (oil on canvas, 2310 x 6111 mm). Imperial War Museums

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