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Major new study into the public's perception of the Armed Forces

26 November 2010

The King’s Centre for Military Health Research, King’s College London, has been awarded a new grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for £347,000. The research grant for the project titled ‘Are the Armed Forces understood and supported by the public? British Social Attitudes towards the military and contemporary conflict’ will run for two years from January 2011 to January 2013.

Dr Nicola Fear comments, ‘This research will allow policy makers, and the wider society, to understand the extent to which the public are misinformed about the nature of Service life and the social characteristics and behaviour of ex-Service personnel - forming a gap between the public and the military. In addition, it will inform discussions on how to design ways of rectifying inaccuracies and/or exaggerations, thus helping to develop more effective civilian-military ties.'

The research team will comprise a partnership involving the King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR), the National Centre for Social Research (NAT CEN) and the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research, Robert Gordon University.

The lead Principal Investigator Professor Christopher Dandeker, Department of War Studies and KCMHR, comments, ‘The point of departure for the project is some recent evidence suggesting that, although the public have become less supportive of the UK’s military involvement in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, their support of the Armed Forces themselves has increased.’

The study will measure:

• public attitudes towards Service and ex-Service personnel (veterans)

• the public's views on the recent conflict in Iraq and the ongoing campaign in Afghanistan

• the interaction between these two sets of attitudes. The research will be based on a new topic module of questions within NAT CEN’s British Social Attitudes Survey [BSA] (to be included in the 2011 survey). This survey has a strong tradition of studying prejudice and discrimination but has not studied attitudes towards military populations before.

Dr Nicola Fear and Professor Simon Wessely, from the Institute of Psychiatry and KCMHR, are the co-Principal Investigators with Dr Susan Klein and Professor David Alexander of the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research, Robert Gordon University. NAT CEN will be represented on the research team by Ms Liz Clery.

The study will focus on whether the public has prejudicial attitudes and might, therefore, be prone to stigmatising veterans or ex-Service personnel because of one or both of two factors: the presumed characteristics of Service life that are judged to affect the predispositions and behaviour of military personnel when they rejoin civilian society; and negative perceptions about the military stemming from the role of the UK Armed Forces in carrying out missions which lack public support.

The project will analyse how the above attitudes are distributed across the population by region, age, gender, race and ethnic background, and socio-economic status. It will test the validity of the argument that, although the public may support and respect the Armed Forces - even if it does not support the political objectives of the missions they undertake - such support is accompanied and limited by a lack of understanding of what Service personnel actually do.

This research will test the strength of society's support of the military, which is one aspect of the 'military covenant' - a set of mutual social obligations connecting government, Armed Forces and the wider public. The idea of the 'military covenant', developed in military doctrine has migrated rapidly to wider public debates about military society relations.


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