No Longer High Fliers? An Exploration of Discipline, Identities and Gender Issues while Navigating out of the RAF

Micklewright, Caroline (2021). No Longer High Fliers? An Exploration of Discipline, Identities and Gender Issues while Navigating out of the RAF. PhD thesis The Open University.



Annually over 12,000 military personnel leave the Armed Forces; many face tough challenges as they attempt to reintegrate into civilian life. While research has shown that most transition successfully into a second career, less is understood about how the decision to leave effects relationships or the subsequent adaptation to civilian life; even less is understood about women’s experiences. This thesis addressed this gap through a longitudinal study exploring the lived experiences of 20 Royal Air Force personnel, seventeen women, including myself, and three men, as they leave military service.

The thesis presents a deeply personal study of transition collected through a series of 41 interviews over two years and is supplemented with autoethnographic reflections. The aim is to understand how disciplinary social forces influence the transition process from the perspective of transitioning military personnel. Theoretically, it adopts a Foucauldian-inspired poststructural approach, drawing on the concept of ‘disciplinary power’, identity theory and poststructural feminism to analyse how subjectification occurs through social relations in a hegemonic masculine culture and how this affects the transition of both male and female personnel. The research addresses the following research questions: Why do personnel feel conflicted about leaving the RAF? How does military service affect gendered identity as individuals re-enter civilian life?

The thesis provides theoretical, empirical, and practice-based contributions to the transition experience. From a theoretical perspective the research demonstrates how gendered power relations and discipline can combine to obscure gendered behaviours from the subject and encourage wicked problems. From an empirical perspective, the relationship between military and civilian is revealed as ambiguous and fluid, and how masculinities and femininities can be transformed, resisted, or sustained through narrative identity work and institutionalized practices learned in a male-dominated organization. Finally, several practice-based contributions emerged addressing the gendered nature of previous research into veterans transition.

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