Twenty-First Century Celebrations of the British Armed Forces - The Rise of the Biopolitical Military Professional

  • R. William Palmer

Student thesis: Phd


Over the past decade, the United Kingdom has witnessed a proliferation of civil-military initiatives that have engendered overt and celebratory displays of support for the British Armed Forces. This thesis interrogates two of these initiatives: the annual public relations event Armed Forces Day and the military charity Help for Heroes. Significantly, these initiatives have emerged against a backdrop of morally and politically contentious military violence, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hence, these initiatives raise important questions about the type of politics which underwrite them. In this thesis, I address these questions by critically engaging with a figure who occupies a key position within this UK civil-military landscape: the professional soldier. Adopting a Foucauldian approach, I place this figure within a broader political, social and historical context and show how, since the end of the Second World War, the professional soldier has continually remerged to rewrite the conditions of possibility for liberal war-fighting. Drawing on this insight, I identify a professional soldier, I label the biopolitical military professional, who greatly informs the contours of this contemporary UK civil-military landscape. The biopolitical military professional is an important figure because they are able to co-opt "civilian" political subjects into the service of liberal-warfighting despite a conflict's political context. This is made possible because the biopolitical military professional is a figure who incorporates their military expertise and professional concerns within a wider set of life-administering knowledges concerned with the health and well-being of the population. Crucially, the most overt expressions of biopolitical military professionalism are produced through these UK civil-military initiatives. I demonstrate this by showing how these initiatives mobilise a whole host of "civilian" proto-professional subjects into the active service of liberal war-fighting through an appeal to both their military "obligations" and their fitness and wellbeing. An effect of this is that participating in one of these initiatives becomes more than an act of military support it also becomes a way of partaking in a healthy and life-enriching activity. For example, a day out at Armed Forces Day is a way to get children to take part in active play and educational activities. Supporting the armed forces through Help for Heroes may involve running a marathon or taking part in a long-distance cycle ride. Consequently, via the presence of the biopolitical military professional these initiatives achieve a certain resonance with a civilian population disinterested in the politics of war but increasingly concerned with their health and wellbeing.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCristina Masters (Supervisor) & Maja Zehfuss (Supervisor)


  • Military Professionalism
  • British Armed Forces
  • Michel Foucault
  • Everyday Militarisms
  • Biopolitics
  • Militarism
  • Liberalism

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