My current major research project, for which I developed the first ideas in 2010, discusses weblogs of American soldiers written from the combat zone. These so-called “milblogs” are a significant new text type in contemporary American culture which is characterized by its self-consciousness and self-confidence both in terms of textual referentiality and community-building. In the last few years, emphasis of online war narratives seems to have shifted to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but, for the time being, milblogs will continue to be my major primary source. I also focus on Afghanistan, rather than Iraq: a) most scholars of the early, uncontrolled, “wild” phase of blogging have discussed Iraq blogs, and I wanted to follow less well-trodden paths, b) although the German military has been very tight about private online-communication from the combat zone until very recently, I hope to have a point of transatlantic comparison one day, so it seemed best to chose a combat zone were more international contingents are/were present.
I understand milblogs as interactive, performed, and ceremonial narratives. The project analyzes how the interactive narration of war experience enables community-building in the blogs. It explores how these communities constitute themselves through a self-reflective examination of their own narrative effort and interaction, how these narratives help negotiate group identities and social values, and how they contribute to the civil (re-)integration of soldiers.
My postdoc project employs an approach of cultural comparison as it correlates milblogs with the rituals of North American indigenous warrior traditions. Several Native American cultures have retained or revived a tradition of performative and narrative ceremonies related to war and warriorhood until today. These ceremonies are an integral part of current cultural practices of Native members of the US armed forces in the current conflicts. Scholarship on warrior traditions in Native American studies has pointed out that the ceremonies, along with the relationship between warriors and their indigenous communities, have positive effects on symptoms of combat-related stress. They suggest that analyses of combat-related stress and PTSD among non-Native veterans should take into account the cultural importance of ceremonial reintegration, that is, of ritual performance and narrativity. Following this approach, my study explores the specific narrative textuality, cultural work, and therapeutic potential of milblogs by employing a cultural and medial comparison with indigenous narrative ceremonies and with “Western” traditions of soldier reintegration and veteran’s affairs.
The project on milblogging is a case study within the Dresden-Leipzig research initiative “Selbst-Bewusste Erzählungen” on the textuality and social relevance of (contemporary) American narratives. I will post anything related to milblogging and to this larger initiative at that site and copy or link to this page here.