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Title: Understanding and explaining perceptions of veterans in UK society
Author: Phillips, Rita H.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7966 4642
Awarding Body: Oxford Brookes University
Current Institution: Oxford Brookes University
Date of Award: 2019
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Introduction There is much concern in public discourse in the UK about the health of veterans. However, little robust research has examined how and why veterans are perceived in particular ways in the UK. Therefore, this thesis applied quantitative and qualitative methodological procedures commonly used in social representational research to explain public perceptions of veterans. Method A sequential exploratory mixed method design was adopted to conduct multiplexed analyses concerning how and why individual opinions about veteran's form in the way they do. Firstly, publicly prevalent discourses about veterans were examined by a content analysis undertaken of 335 articles on British veterans that were downloaded from online news sources. Secondly, to observe whether these publicly prevalent discourses about veterans are mirrored by individual perceptions in the general population a review of responses to UK representative opinion polls and surveys was conducted. From 11 representative polls/surveys, 41 question items referring to veterans were extracted, the responses grouped into thematic clusters and contrasted with factually correct information about veterans. Thirdly, a quantitative word association task was conducted to understand why individuals may hold their beliefs about veterans. A total of 234 participants (Mean age 24 years) gave three initial responses to veteran related roles (i.e. 'Veteran', 'Ex-Service Personnel) and, for contrasting purposes, active service personnel related roles (i.e. Soldier'). The associations were analysed with a Content Analysis, the Hierarchical Evocation Method, Multiple Linear Regression Models, a Principal Component Factor Analysis and Correlation Models. Lastly, building on the results from above, the rationalities that are held by individuals to justify beliefs about veterans were explored. Semi-structured interviews with 29 British individuals who varied in social distance to UK Armed Forces veterans and UK Armed Forces veterans themselves were conducted (gender: female = 13, male = 16; veterans = 8; Mean age= 38 years). The interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed by a deductive Thematic Analysis. Results The findings suggested that negative, erroneous beliefs about veterans are prevalent in British society (i.e. most veterans are perceived as suffering from ill health). The newspaper analysis indicated that public discourses predominantly focus on depicting veterans as victims (46.8%) or heroes (40.3%). While the 'broadsheet' press focussed on depictions of veterans as victims, 'international' and 'local' press focussed on depictions of veterans as victims. 'Tabloids' represented a middle-ground between both. The review of UK representative opinion polls and surveys indicated that heroic and victimised depictions of veterans resonate with publicly prevalent beliefs about veterans. Veterans are highly appreciated but erroneously attributed to suffer from ill-health and economic hardships. The quantitative word association task identified 'Victimisation' as a defining key element in descriptions of veterans. It is less important in descriptions of still serving personnel but present nonetheless. Further analyses indicated 'Victimisation' to be related to recollections of depersonalised, war related descriptors. In contrast, 'Heroism', a defining key element for serving personnel and veterans, was related to the inherent dispositions of veterans and still serving personnel. Thus, whilst perceptions of heroism may be understood as part of an inherent disposition to serve, the attribution of victimisation may be related to participant understandings of the aftermath of Service and exposure to violence. The findings from the qualitative interview study indicated rationalities that justified beliefs about veterans are dependent on underlying social identity processes guided by conceptualisations of the legitimacy of recent deployments, understandings of the veteran's inherent dispositions and interactions of the two. This commonly resulted in perceptions of veterans as suffering from ill health as their experiences with violence were understood to be in opposition to the veteran's inherent moral superiority. Discussion In conclusion, factually incorrect and negative understandings of veterans seem to be socially perpetuated, widely shared and commonly believed by individuals in British society. Therefore, individuals in British society perceive the normal end-state of a military career as resulting in a 'damaged' veteran. To dissociate the veteran from these publicly prevalent, erroneous beliefs then the veteran's occupational identity should be emphasised. However, in order to do so, civil-military relationships may need to be improved and social misperceptions about Service and deployments clarified. Potential interventions to reconceptualise erroneous publicly pertinent perceptions of veterans are suggested and discussed. These novel findings carry significant implications for future strategies to improve the veterans' reputation in UK society.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral