New study to investigate culture of abuse and bullying in the Australian Defence Force

Academics James Connor (UNSW Canberra) and Ben Wadham (Flinders University) have a grant to investigate ‘the culture behind abuse and bullying in the Australian Defence Force’. The media release has more.

Our research [said Dr Connor] will look at the social conditions which foster abusive environments and for us that’s these closed, masculine environments which operate in particular ways, and which give you particular conditions for abuse to occur. [Military culture in this area has improved over the last 50 years and] I hope it will continue to change for the better. The key thing is giving voice to survivors of defence abuse, making sense of how and why this happens so that we can facilitate organisational reform in the ADF to make it better.

Then Australian Army chief, David Morrison, addressed these issues in a number of speeches. Honest History has long thought there would be value in exploring the links between abuse, misogyny, and a distorted version of the Anzac tradition. Perhaps this study will look for those connections.

Morrison said this in 2013:

Such cultural problems generally evolve over time into distortions of what began as an admirable quality in an institution or organisation, but they are hijacked by misguided or malevolent people and become a device to exclude the vulnerable and the different from the dominant group. Often in hyper masculine environments, like armies, the “other” is defined by being weaker physically, not drinking “like a man”, being more introverted or intellectual, and of course female.

A version of Anzac lurks nearby.

[T]he Anzac legend – as admirable as it is – has become something of a double-edged sword. Many Australians have an idealised image of the Australian soldier as a rough hewn country lad – invariably white – a larrikin who fights best with a hangover and who never salutes officers, especially the Poms. This is a pantomime caricature.

Ben Wadham has appeared previously on Honest History. Gallipoli, Wadham said then, ‘naturalises and distorts the national narrative when viewed from a vantage point where masculinity, whiteness and hegemony seem to line up in “a perfect chain of echoic meaning”’. He also considered similar issues in The Conversation in 2012.

20 January 2018

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