An introductory Q&A with the Military Surplus: Toxicity, Industry and War network

Q. How did the Military Surplus network come about? 

The idea for Military Surplus arose earlier in the year during the workshop ‘(Post)conflict ecologies: rethinking the afterlives of conflict and violence in more-than-human worlds’ led by Dr Esther Breithoff at Birkbeck, University of London. All four of us expressed a desire to better understand the peripheries, the surpluses, and the shadow worlds of the military-industrial complex. We wanted to highlight objects, materials, and substances which contribute to armament and conflict, yet have been treated as non-suspect or innocent, resulting in little critical engagement. We also wanted to provide a longer history to the materials in question, to propose that within the military complex, these ‘things’ often lead intricate and multidimensional lives, travelling across different spaces, relations, communities, landscapes….this brings up the possibility of thinking about the ‘past lives’ and ‘many lives’ of materials incorporated into the military fold.

Q. By definition, a CRASSH Research Network has an interdisciplinary question at its core. What is yours? 

How do we think beyond the monolithic conceptualisation of the military-industrial complex? How do we best describe the ways in which the military enters the realm of the intimate, the bodily, the personal, the molecular, the relational, etc? What narratives, genres, or forms of media best apprehend and represent these differing scales of influence? How do we capture the ‘livingness’ of the military in the contemporary moment and within history?

Q. Could you tell us a bit more about this year’s convenors, speakers and attendees and the perspectives they bring to the discussion?  

This year’s convenors on the Military Surplus network bring a range of subject background and experiences that include anthropology, archaeology, forensics, Science and Technology Studies, museums, heritage and the visual arts. They are united by a shared interest in the environmental humanities and more-than-human approaches that consider foreground materiality and landscape, alongside human actors.
Zsuzsanna Ihar works in the History and Philosophy of Science, currently researching militarised landscapes of the Scottish Highlands. Layla Renshaw works on post-conflict investigations, researching both the scientific and social dimensions of the recovery and commemoration of war dead. Paola Filippucci is an anthropologist studying the cultural and physical legacies of World War I in Northern France. Jo Sweeney has a background in fine art and contemporary archaeology. Her most recent research concerns communities and environments impacted by asbestos manufacturing.
The speakers and discussants participating this year include Saida Hodžić, Egle Rindzeviciute, Svitlana Matviyenko, Andrew Black, Ilona Sagar, Lesley McFadyen, Ben Neimark, Camille Westmont and Safet HadžiMuhamedović. They bring perspectives from social anthropology, heritage, human geography, political ecology, archaeology, theology, environmental humanities, sociology, media analysis and film making.

Q. What can we expect from Military Surplus in 2023-24?

This year the network will bring together speakers from broad disciplinary backgrounds to tackle different categories of military manufacturing, and installations, landscapes and practices associated with war and its by-products. Examples include submarine bases in Scotland, decommissioned nuclear sites in Eastern Europe, concrete blast walls in the Middle East and weapons factories in Bosnia. The material and physical properties of military manufacturing, and its impact on human bodies, communities and environments will be a uniting theme in these seminars. The methodological and ethical challenges of how to research these topics and represent them will also be explored. Later in the year, invited speakers will include activists who engage the public with the social and environmental harms of military manufacturing. As the final event of the year, there will be a one-day workshop exploring spatial and temporal connections in military manufacturing processes in distant locations or over long time frames. This will explore methodological approaches to scale and mapping to visualise these connections. It will also consider the difficult materialities of toxic and hazardous substances in military manufacturing, and look at creative ways to visualise toxicity.

Q. How can people learn more about your Network? 

You can find out more about us on our network page on the CRASSH website, our own website, and by following us on Twitter.



Tel: +44 1223 766886