The military specter: life, death, and militarized respectability in the United States

Authors: Jenna Christian*, Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Political Geography, Social Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: haunting, feminist political geography, race, military
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Ambassador Ballroom, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper attempts to reckon with the ghosts that are conjured by the military. Integrating theories of haunting, feminist political geography, and critical race thinking, I experiment with how ghosts can help us to explore the relationality of past and present, visible and invisible, material and immaterial, and life and death. This theoretical exploration draws from long-term ethnographic research on the intersection of racial justice politics and military recruitment in Houston, Texas in order to introduce what I am calling the figure of a military specter. I argue that the spectral figure of the soldier is mobilized in the U.S. public imaginary, and that this figure reflects distinctly raced, gendered, and heteronormative ideas of the sacrificial soldier and deserving citizen. Ghosts can teach us about the contours of race in the military, including the participation of people of color in the military and the way the military intersects with broader movements for racial justice and belonging. While the military specter represents a reckoning with the death and violence produced through the military, I also propose that some ghosts are illusions—tricks of vision that help normalize militarization. Thus, in grappling with military ghosts, I argue that we need to remain alert to how they are mobilized and manipulated. Further, I suggest that we need to look for the connections between the immaterial vaunted military specter and the real, material, and embodied experiences of soldiers—and potential soldiers—in the U.S. military.

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