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Combat as a moving target: masculinities, the heroic soldier myth and normative martial violence

Millar, Katharine M. and Tidy, Joanna (2017) Combat as a moving target: masculinities, the heroic soldier myth and normative martial violence. Critical Military Studies, 3 (2). pp. 142-160. ISSN 2333-7486

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Identification Number: 10.1080/23337486.2017.1302556


This article problematizes the conceptualisation and use of ‘combat’ within critical scholarship on masculinities, militaries and war. We trace, firstly, how ‘combat’ appears as an empirical category within traditional war studies scholarship, describing an ostensibly self-evident physical practice. We then examine how feminist and gender approaches – in contrast – reveal ‘combat’ as a normative imagination of martial violence. This imagination of violence is key to the constitution of the masculine ideal, and normalisation of military force, through the heroic soldier myth. We argue, however, that despite this critical impulse, much of feminist and gender analysis evidences conceptual “slippage”: combat is still often treated as a ‘common sense’ empirical category – a thing that ‘is’ – in masculinities theorising. This treatment of gendered-imaginary-as-empirics imports a set of normative investments that limit the extent to which the heroic soldier myth, and the political work that it undertakes, can be deconstructed. As a consequence, whilst we know how masculinities are constituted in relation to ‘combat’, we lack the corollary understanding of how masculinities constitute ‘combat’, and how the resulting imagination sustains military authority and the broader social acceptance of war. We argue that unpacking these dynamics and addressing this lacuna is key to the articulation of a meaningfully ‘critical’ gender and military studies going forward.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
Divisions: International Relations
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
J Political Science > JZ International relations
U Military Science > U Military Science (General)
Date Deposited: 20 Feb 2017 10:02
Last Modified: 20 Sep 2021 03:55

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