Life after traumatic injury: narratives of embodiment and identity of United Kingdom ex-service personnel
Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis
This PhD thesis explores the life stories of veterans who were medically discharged due to severe trauma. Building upon Arthur Frank’s (1995) ‘illness narratives’, the research aims to fill the gap about the individual, lived experiences of wounded service personnel in the United Kingdom Armed Forces. Through narrative inquiry with 12 participants (all male), this thesis covers a lengthy temporal dimension: from the point of injury to rehabilitation and beyond—to the hopes and fears that participants voiced for their futures. The thesis explores how poly-traumatic wounds and subsequent discharge impacts the life stories of injured service personnel through a multidisciplinary lens inclusive of sociology, critical military studies, critical disability studies, psychology, and bio-medical studies. Investigating rehabilitation and medical discharge, participants clarify how continuity and change affects their transition into civilian society. It also highlights a ‘post-military’ versus ‘ex-military’ identity for participants, as the narratives reflect still being connected to their Armed Forces career. Participants’ careers range from 6 to 26 years, serving in the Royal Air Force, Royal Marines, and the British Army. The analysis of the collected narratives within this research illuminates how service members who acquire a disability whilst in service adapt, how they find various forms of agency post-discharge, and their negotiation of physical autonomy in their daily lives. I suggest three new narrative typologies from my research data—‘anchored’, ‘adapted’, and ‘ascending’—to categorise participants’ levels of physical independence. Two new concepts are also introduced: ‘conditional corporeality’ and ‘body rationing’. Lastly, I conclude the thesis with key findings and areas for future research.
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