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Military culture and security: boundaries and identity in the UK private military security field

Thornbury, Paul Charles (2020) Military culture and security: boundaries and identity in the UK private military security field. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004221


This study examines the market for British military expertise in the commercial security sector. It focuses predominantly on people who have served in the armed forces, or worked closely with them in private security. It is argued that the UK private military security sector forms a coherent social ‘field’ based around the commodification of military forms of capital through which the emotional reward of military style work can be re-experienced in civilian life. Using in-depth interviews, the study analyses the experiences of practitioners working across the field and explores the implications that this has for our understanding of the private security phenomenon. The study demonstrates how the private military security sector commoditises the emotionally reliable capacity to exercise coercive force inherent to the military habitus. Thorough the exchange of this ‘military capital’, private military security replicates the more ‘offensive’ practices of state militaries. These practices often sit in tension with the commercial imperative of the sector. The experience of military service and transition into private security work is examined highlighting how the combat-oriented culture of elite military sub-units dominates the commercial security sphere, particularly in those ‘fringe areas’ of the field where transparency is limited and ethical boundaries ambiguous. The replication of these state-like practices in the civilian marketplace highlights paradoxes inherent to these forms of ‘security’. This provides an opportunity for researchers to better understand our social construction of ‘security’ in its state and private forms. The study explores how the ‘symbolic capital’ of state exceptionalism, possessed by veterans of ‘high policing’ Special Forces units, has been central to the evolution of the field, and provides indicative evidence of the opportunity this affords state and private elites to extend their capacity to exercise autonomy and control in a manner that creates new, ‘hybrid’ forms of sovereignty.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Paul Charles Thornbury
Uncontrolled Keywords: private military, private security, military culture, military-civilian transition, field and capital
Library of Congress subject classification: U Military Science > U Military Science (General)
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Hutter, Bridget and Foster, Janet

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