In this dissertation I explore military deployment from the perspective of Danish soldiers, their female partners and children at home. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this thesis seeks to contribute to an anthropological understanding of the social and moral consequences of sending a partner, father and family member to war. For a year, I have followed the everyday lives of seven Danish soldiers’ families over the course of military deployment. Moreover, I have interviewed a number of families about their prior experiences of military deployment. In the thesis I demonstrate how the absence of a soldier affects the family members at home and how, in return, the soldier abroad experiences everyday family life and his role as a parent and partner from a distance. The analytical aim of the thesis is to demonstrate how the consequences of war reach far beyond any battlefield and into the homes, social relations and everyday lives of soldiers and their families. From a Danish perspective, I seek to contribute to the literature on ‘military families’ by engaging with military deployment as a social experience interpreted into moral ideals about family life. Moreover, the thesis seeks to contribute to the anthropological literature on family by exploring how families negotiate existing ideals about the ‘good’ family life when separated for months at a time.
The overall argument of the thesis is that social norms and ideals regarding family life, gender and especially parenting in Danish society impact soldiers and family members’ experiences of deployment. Being a ‘good’ parent requires that one is present and emotionally as well as practically involved in the upbringing of one’s children. Military deployment challenges these ideals. In the four analytical articles of the dissertation I demonstrate how Danish soldiers’ families make sense of deployment by negotiating existing ideals and moralities in their everyday family lives.
In the first article, Fighting for the Family: Overcoming Distances in Time and Space (published in Critical Military Studies’ special issue Becoming a Warring Nation: Adjusting to War and Violence in Denmark, 2017), I illustrate how soldiers and their family members seek to maintain a close and intimate relationship despite geographical distances and emotional distress during deployment. By introducing the notion of ‘relational spaces’, I conceptualise the driving force behind soldiers’ families’ attempts to live up to certain norms of ‘good’ parenting and a ‘good’ family life. These efforts, I argue, lead to a higher acceptance of the military as a part of the everyday lives of soldiers’ families as well as a normalisation of the military profession. Thus, ideals and expectations of family life and parenthood become crucial for our understanding of militarisation as a subtle, yet profound, process that results in a legitimisation of a military presence in the lives of soldiers’ families.
The second article, titled: The Battlegrounds of Everyday Life: Balancing Motherhood and Career as a Danish Soldier’s Partners (in press for the journal Women, Gender & Research’s special issue Gender, War and the Military) takes the perspective of soldiers’ female partners at home. The article demonstrates how military deployment not only changed the routines of everyday family life but also soldiers’ partners’ positions and opportunities as individual persons outside the family. By preventing the women from pursuing their own careers and social engagements, the article illustrates how deployment challenges ideals of equal opportunity among partners outside the domestic sphere of home. Moreover, the article argues that the absence of a parent challenges ideals of parenthood as a shared responsibility belonging to both parents. Consequently, military deployment and the absence of a partner and parent place soldiers’ partners in a precarious situation, where they continuously struggle to balance their time and social roles as both mothers and working women.
In the third article of the dissertation I turn towards the soldier-fathers. In Operation 'Long Distance Parenting': The Moral Struggles of being a Soldier and a Father (in press for publication in the journal Gender, Place & Culture), I illustrate the continuous moral battle taken on by Danish soldier-fathers in their attempt to be both professional soldiers and involved and present fathers. In their attempt to live morally consistent lives, the soldier-fathers of this study developed and experimented with various strategies for being present and involved fathers. By illustrating how soldier-fathers navigate their social worlds by creating alternative narratives of fatherhood and by establishing a presence in their absence, I likewise show how existing moral discourses on ‘soldiering’ and ‘fatherhood’ are reproduced, negotiated and challenged.
In the dissertation’s fourth article Will the Children be Alright? Risk and Parenting Strategies in Danish Families going through Military Deployment (Submitted to the journal Families, Relationships and Societies, I reflect upon my fieldwork among children in soldiers’ families as well as the insights I have gained from my attempts to understand how military deployment is experienced from a child’s perspective. The article focuses on children’s behaviours and reactions to deployment, but especially how these are interpreted by their parents. The aim of the article is to illustrate how parents’ struggles to access whether or not deployment has a negative impact on their children not only shape their experiences and parenting practices over the course of deployment, but also confirm an ideal of parents as risk managers. In that sense, the last analytical article of the dissertation concerns both soldiers’ children as social agents within the family as well as the strategies used by parents to secure the future wellbeing of their children.