Contemporary military conflict tends to be defined by the ‘event’ of war — the outbreak, the clash, the rupture, the declaration. It is cataclysmic, excessively visual, and volatile. The physical world is reduced to the combat zone, composed of seemingly ahistorical objects, materials, and actors. Beyond the immediate theatre of war, however, there are intricate (and often hidden) supply-chains, industries, and arrangements sustaining and bolstering military might. The ‘Military Surplus’ research network will examine these ‘peripheral’ zones, as well as the by-products of war which seem to lie beyond traditional understandings of the military-industrial-complex. By honing in on communities and environments around the world directly and indirectly impacted by the manufacture of weapons and materiel, the hosting of military installations, and the flow of toxic materials and substances that these industries entail, participants will explore interdisciplinary methods and approaches capable of tracking the military’s extension into hidden and unexpected spheres of life.
The network will connect sites where toxic materials are extracted, the industrial centres producing weapons and equipment, and the theatres of war where these are deployed. From the production of asbestos for military submarines, Franco’s deployment of Civil War prisoners in mercury mining, the processing of kelp-derived alginates in camouflage material, to the ongoing use of PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ on military bases across the United Kingdom, researchers involved in the network will make visible the material, political, and cultural connections between war, military manufacturing, and extractive industry. A series of interdisciplinary research talks, discussions, and workshops will highlight the materials, residues, and molecules of conflict — forging connections between ‘hot wars’ and the ‘slow’ (structural) violence of toxic materials and working conditions, and their physical and environmental harms. Through incorporating different scales of impact, the network will rework notions of justice, repair, and representation, thereby extending analysis to the nonhuman and more-than-human.
We invite activists, artists, community stakeholders, and scholars from different disciplinary paths such as Anthropology, History and Philosophy of Science, Politics, Sociology of Health and Science, History, Geography, Heritage/Archaeology, as well as the natural and physical sciences, to join the conversation. We are particularly interested in making space for undergraduates, MPhil students, Early Career Researchers, and non-academics within the network.
Supported by CRASSH
- Paola Filippucci (Senior College Lecturer in Social Anthropology at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, and an affiliated lecturer in the Department of Social Anthropology)
- Zsuzsanna Ihar (PhD candidate and Gates Scholar, Department of History and Philosophy of Science)
- Layla Renshaw (Honorary Research Associate, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. Associate Professor Forensic Science, Department of Applied and Human Sciences, Kingston University)
- External: Jo Sweeney (Education and Outreach Officer Gunpowder Mills, Independent Scholar)
About the convenors
Dr Paola Filippucci is a Senior College Lecturer in Social Anthropology at Murray Edwards College and an affiliated lecturer in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. She has carried out extensive ethnographic fieldwork in the former battlefields of the Western Front (France/Belgium), focusing on the socio-cultural and landscape impacts of war destruction and reconstruction in these regions. She has published several articles and book chapters on this theme. She is a member of the steering committee of the Heritage Research Centre at Cambridge, which regularly organises workshops and conferences at the McDonald Institute (Department of Archaeology).
Zsuzsanna Ihar is a PhD candidate and Gates Scholar at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. She has conducted fieldwork in garrison towns, disused army bases, reclaimed conservation areas, and former military trial sites. Her doctoral research, in part, explores the ongoing militarisation of Scotland’s West Highlands and Hebridean archipelago, with a specific interest in local knowledge-making practices and the mobilisation of scientific expertise within military projects. She is a Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) research fellow and a member of the Wellcome Trust-funded project, From Collection to Cultivation (led by Professor Helen Anne Curry). She was formerly a Knowledge Management fellow at ICARDA and convened the Feminist HPS reading group at Cambridge. Zsuzsanna is also an avid documentary photographer and filmmaker.
Dr Layla Renshaw is an Honorary Research Associate at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and an Associate Professor of Forensic Science at the Department of Applied and Human Sciences at Kingston University. Her research focuses on post-conflict investigations, and the relationship between human remains, material culture and traumatic memory. She has worked for the International Criminal Tribunal in Kosovo and investigated WWI and WWII conflict sites in Europe. Layla has carried out fieldwork at multiple sites in Spain and is the author of ‘Exhuming Loss: Memory, Materiality and Mass Graves of the Spanish Civil War’. In 2019, she was principal investigator on the ISRF-funded group project ‘Citizen Forensics: Materializing the Dead from Grave to Gene’. Layla is currently co-investigator on Dr Esther Breithoff’s UKRI project ‘Ecologies of Violence’.
Josephine Sweeney is currently the Learning and Engagement Officer at Leighton House, a historic house museum in Kensington, London. She previously worked at the Royal Gunpowder Mills, an industrial Heritage site in Waltham Abbey, Essex. She has a longstanding interest in collaborating with schools, families, and community groups to expand access and critically engage audiences with these heritage sites through practical, hands-on activities. Her MA dissertation ‘Approaching Asbestos as Heritage’ – exploring the legacies of asbestos – was awarded The Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology Postgraduate Dissertation Prize 2021. As an independent heritage scholar, she continues to research asbestos and its afterlives, considering how the mineral’s properties might challenge notions of ‘aftermath’, and instead pull attention to the ongoing, shifting, compounded, sudden and slow repercussions of conflict and military material residues.
- Yael Navaro (Professor of Social Anthropology, Fellow, Newnham College, Coordinator, MPhil in Social Anthropology, Chair, MPhil Committee)
- Andreas Pantazatos (Assistant Professor in Heritage Studies, Director MPhil in Heritage Studies, Department of Archaeology)
- Richard Staley (Hans Rausing Lecturer and Professor in History and Philosophy of Science)
Programme 2023 - 2024
Michaelmas term 2023
Peter Hinterndorfer (Vienna), Layla Renshaw (Kingston) Ilona Sagar (Sommerset House Studios), Josephine Sweeney (Leighton House) Egle Rindzeviciute (Kingston), Svitlana Matviyenko (Simon Fraser) Saida Hodžić (Cornell), Lesley MacFadyen (Birkbeck, London): Andrew Black (Film London ) Zsuzsanna Ihar (Cambridge)
Forced labour, toxicity and war
19 Oct 2023 17:00 - 19:00, Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, CB3 9DT
Latent legacies: the afterlives of asbestos
2 Nov 2023 17:00 - 19:00, Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, CB3 9DT
Toxicity and technology in the Soviet and Post-Soviet anthropocene
16 Nov 2023 17:00 - 19:00, Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, CB3 9DT
Factory towns, working lives, and communal memory
23 Nov 2023 17:00 - 19:00, Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road
The militarised pastoral
30 Nov 2023 17:00 - 19:00, Seminar room SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, CB3 9DT
Peter Hinterndorfer (Vienna), Layla Renshaw (Kingston)
Ilona Sagar (Sommerset House Studios), Josephine Sweeney (Leighton House)
Egle Rindzeviciute (Kingston), Svitlana Matviyenko (Simon Fraser)
Saida Hodžić (Cornell), Lesley MacFadyen (Birkbeck, London):
Andrew Black (Film London ) Zsuzsanna Ihar (Cambridge)
Lent term 2024
Easter term 2024