Militarization Working Group Launches New Collaboration

American Studies Professor Caren Kaplan recently marveled at the variety of consumer products you can buy nowadays decked out in camouflage. “I have got photos of camouflage snuggies, camouflage tricycles, camouflage everything. It’s unbelievable what they will put camouflage print on.”

While these items displayed in online catalogs and big box stores may seem harmless, they are symptomatic of the many ways in which the line between military and civilian life has become blurred. Such everyday instances of militarization often are missed in more narrowly disciplinary approaches to the topic, according to Kaplan. That is, in part, why Kaplan and a cohort of faculty from UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine, and UC Santa Barbara, will take a more interdisciplinary approach in a new Working Group funded by the UC Humanities Research Institute.

Entitled Cultures of Militarization, the multi-campus collaboration based at UC Davis will spend the next year exploring the cultural study of militarization, both historically and in relation to current conflicts. On Thursday, October 13th, from 4-6 p.m. in 3201 Hart Hall, the working group will co-host, with the Cultural Studies Graduate Group, a talk by Deborah Cowen, a professor in Geography & Planning at the University of Toronto, about the modern art and science of logistics that examines the shift from the military art of moving soldiers and supplies during wartime to a business science focused on mobility and supply chain security. Co-sponsored by the Humanities Institute’s Research Cluster on Militarization and the Center for Women and Research Interest Group on Gender and Militarization, the talk is free and open to the public.

The day after Cowen’s talk, the working group will have a chance to sit down privately with Cowen to build networks across fields and campuses, brainstorm about clusters of interests within the emerging field, and discuss publishing short essays in a special issue of a journal or edited volume.

“It’s rare to have a chance to work intensely in a seminar setting with other faculty,” Kaplan says. “While some of us are already colleagues and acquaintances, for several of us this is a first-time meeting. We hope to build on this new opportunity to work together and bring ideas back to our respective campuses.”

According to Kaplan, the challenge of the working group’s approach is to understand militarization in a way that does not reduce complex and subtle parts of the story to an overgeneralized “deep structure.” She argues that it is not helpful to position militarization as simply a form of “bad faith” or the product of right or wrong thinking. The cultural studies of militarization can elicit the subtler and possibly more unsettling disparate aspects of the operations of thinking, seeing, and being a part of a military project, especially in the age of globalization.

In May 2012, the working group will meet for a second time in conjunction with a visit and talk by Professor Hanna Rose Shell of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a media scholar, historian, filmmaker and author of Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography and the Media of Reconnaissance.

In addition to Kaplan, the group’s principal investigator, the participants of the working group include Colin Milburn, associate professor of English, UC Davis; Paul Amar, associate professor of Global & International Studies, UC Santa Barbara; Toby Beauchamp, Lionel Cantu Memorial Fellow and UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Communications, UC San Diego; Kelly Gates, assistant professor of Communications and Science Studies, UC San Diego; Peter Limbrick, associate professor of Film and Digital Media, UC Santa Cruz; Minoo Moallem, professor of Gender & Women’s Studies, UC Berkeley; and Jennifer Terry, associate professor and chair of Women’s Studies, UC Irvine.

Working Groups are designed to catalyze collaboration among individuals from different disciplines, locations, and campuses around a specific problem, theme, object or topic. A Working Group consists of 5 to 15 people who collaborate over one academic year to address a clearly defined timely issue or early stage of research on an emergent topic in the humanities. To learn more about Working Groups, please visit