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Death does not become her: an examination of the public construction of female American soldiers as liminal figures

Millar, Katharine M. (2015) Death does not become her: an examination of the public construction of female American soldiers as liminal figures. Review of International Studies, 41 (4). pp. 757-779. ISSN 0260-2105

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0260210514000424


Since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, over 150 female American military personnel have been killed, over 70 following hostile fire. Given Western society’s long-standing practice of reserving the conduct of collective violence to men, these very public deaths are difficult to encompass within the normative and ideological structures of the contemporary American political system. This study examines the ways in which the public duty to commemorate the heroism of soldiers – and the private desire to accurately remember daughters and wives – poses a significant challenge to coherent discursive representation. In doing so, the study employs hermeneutical interpretation to analyse public representations of female soldiers and their relation to death in US popular culture. These representations are examined via Judith Butler’s concept of grievability – the possibility of receiving recognition as a worthy life within the existing social imaginary. It is argued that female soldiers are grievable as both ‘good soldiers’ and ‘good women’, but not as ‘good female soldiers’. The unified subject position of ‘good female soldier’ is liminal, and thus rendered socially and politically unintelligible. The article concludes with an analysis of the implications of this liminality for collective mourning and the possibility of closure after trauma.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2015 British International Studies Association
Divisions: International Relations
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2017 13:14
Last Modified: 20 Sep 2021 00:57

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