Geography Military Geographies of Popular Culture
Daniel Bos
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0268


Popular culture and the media play an integral role in shaping public perceptions concerning the geographies of military activities and power. Critical approaches in studying military geography have started to pay closer attention to cultural representations of the military and their constitutive role in legitimizing and justifying military presence and practices within varying geographical contexts. It is important to note that there is no definitive or coherent scholarship on the topic of military geographies of popular culture. Therefore, this review does not chart a single cohesive body of scholarship. Instead, it offers an illustrative account of the interdisciplinary nature of studying the popular cultural geographies of militarism and militarization. There are several ways in which geographical scholarship, especially in the field of popular geopolitics, has contributed to understanding the relationship between the military and popular culture. First, geographical work has offered critical insights into the political-economic structures of what has been termed the “military-entertainment complex,” revealing the intimate symbiotic relationship between military institutes and the entertainment industries. Second, and where the predominant focus lies, geography has brought critical attention to the cultural politics of popular military representation. This has involved a detailed critical analysis of various popular cultural forms, texts, and visual media, exposing the geopolitical imaginaries that are both reflective and constitutive of the militarized violence they depict. More recently, such work has been advanced through an interest in material cultures and “more-than-representational” accounts to consider how cultures of militarism become embedded within the context of everyday geographies. Finally, geographers have reflected on the significance of place and the everyday situated contexts in which popular militarized cultures are embedded, experienced, and negotiated. Such work has considered the role of scale, highlighting how cultures of militarism are performed and internalized, especially within the domestic setting. Such work has adopted in-depth qualitative methodological approaches to recognize how popular forms of militarism are experienced in everyday life. The review article begins with an overview of the interdisciplinary work that seeks to expose and explore the military-entertainment complex. It then proceeds with thematic sections drawing attention to how scholars, within and beyond the discipline of human geography, have critically analyzed an array of diverse popular cultural militarized texts, representations, and material objects. It ends by drawing attention to the emergent methodological approaches and techniques to studying popular military geographies.

General Overviews

The entries here do not provide dedicated overviews of military geography and popular culture. Instead, Woodward 2005, a foundational article, paves the way for critical geographical approaches to understanding militarism. Within this article, there is a nod toward the importance of the cultural geographies of military representations in legitimating their activities within varying geographical contexts. While Woodward fails to mention popular culture specifically, the geographical significance of popular representations of the military is advanced by Rech, et al. 2015, which argues the importance of understanding the constitutive role of popular culture. Beyond geography, it is important to note the significance of feminist scholarship and contributions in furthering critical analytical interests in the ways in which militaristic symbols, ideologies, and values permeate everyday life and geographies. Cynthia Enloe (Enloe 2000) has been key in conveying the importance of everyday gendered processes in which military values are normalized. Åhäll 2016 expands on this by outlining the political contributions feminist security studies present to studying and making sense of the often trivialized and hidden politics of militarization. By focusing on the realm of the everyday, such insights have been helpful in enhancing the analytical scope of the key concepts of militarism (regarded as an ideology and societal belief in the importance of military power and force) and militarization (understood as a sociopolitical process involving the normalization of a militarized society (see Åhäll 2016). International relations and media scholars have also offered insightful and critical frameworks to explore this relationship further. Stahl 2009 provides a rich theoretical discussion on what the author sees as a turn toward “interactive war,” noting the interactive nature of popular culture, which works to recruit audiences as “virtual-citizen soldiers.” The term militainment begins questioning the societal implications of translating military violence into pleasurable public consumption. Boggs and Pollard 2015 and Davies and Philpott 2012 present varied contemporary and historical examples to demonstrate the relationship between popular culture and militarism. A key limitation of these overviews is that they predominantly emanate from and are focused on the Anglosphere. However, important contributions have come from other parts of the world, including Sri Lanka (De Mel 2007) and Japan (Frühstück 2007), which present different geographical and cultural contexts of the relationship between the military and popular culture.

  • Åhäll, Linda. “The Dance of Militarisation: A Feminist Security Studies Take on ‘The Political.’” Critical Studies on Security 4.2 (2016): 154–168.

    DOI: 10.1080/21624887.2016.1153933

    This article considers the political analytical purchase that feminist security studies can offer to understanding the everyday process of militarization. Åhäll defines the key terms militarism and militarization before engaging with dance as a methodological metaphor to consider the choreographed political performance of a military remembrance event in the context of the United Kingdom.

  • Boggs, Carl, and Tom Pollard. The Hollywood War Machine: US Militarism and Popular Culture. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2015.

    The second edition of this book explores the role of military-themed films, noting their historical legacy and contribution to cultures of militarism within the context of the United States. A new chapter focuses on more recent films, analyzing their relationship with the broader “gun culture” in the United States.

  • Davies, Matt, and Simon Philpott. “Militarization and Popular Culture.” In The Marketing of War in the Age of Neo-Militarism. Edited by Kostas Gouliamos, and Christos Kassimeris, 42–59. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2012.

    From an international relations perspective, Davies and Philpott provide an extensive overview of the scholarship and introduce a range of case studies to explore the relationship between militarization and popular culture.

  • De Mel, Neloufer. Militarizing Sri Lanka: Popular Culture, Memory and Narrative in the Armed Conflict. Delhi: Sage Publications, 2007.

    DOI: 10.4135/9788132100072

    This book begins by exploring the process of militarization in the context of Sri Lanka. Following this, chapters draw specific attention to different cultural forms, including theater, cinema, and military advertising, within the period from the 1980s to 2006. Specific emphasis and focus are placed on gender, memory, and childhood in ways that emphasize militarization as a contingent and ever-shifting process.

  • Enloe, Cynthia. Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520923744

    Enloe’s book remains a key contribution to studying the everyday processes of militarization. Drawing on a feminist perspective, the book outlines the gendered nature of militarization and demonstrates, through a wide array of examples from varied international contexts, the expansive ways militaristic values permeate a wide array of objects, people, and ideas.

  • Frühstück, Sabine. Uneasy Warriors: Gender, Memory, and Popular Culture in the Japanese Army. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520939646

    This monograph draws on extensive fieldwork in Japan between 1998 and 2004, focusing on the Japan Self-Defense Forces, in which the author undertook basic self-defense forces training. A dedicated chapter outlines the role and appropriation of popular culture in representing and promoting a “non-war-making military” to the public.

  • Rech, Matthew, Daniel Bos, Neil K. Jenkings, Alison Williams and Rachel Woodward. “Geography, Military Geography, and Critical Military Studies.” Critical Military Studies 1.1 (2015): 47–60. .

    DOI: 10.1080/23337486.2014.963416

    This paper outlines the role of human geography in providing critical insight into critical military studies. It outlines three tropes of geographical inquiry, including the role of scale, landscape, and representations as central geographical concepts to critically explore the spatial expression of military power. The focus on representation acknowledges the role of popular culture and the media in generating imaginative military geographies and how these are embedded in place and through sociospatial relations.

  • Stahl, Roger. Militainment, Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2009.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203879603

    Stahl introduces the concept of militainment, which considers how military violence is translated into pleasurable consumption via a range of popular culture items, including video games, toys, television, and sporting events in the context of the US “war on terror.” A central argument of the book is the movement from consumers’ engagement with “war as spectacle” to “war as interactive” and how this recruits audiences as “virtual-citizen soldiers.”

  • Woodward, Rachel. “From Military Geography to Militarism’s Geographies: Disciplinary Engagements with the Geographies of Militarism and Military Activities.” Progress in Human Geography 29.6 (2005): 718–740.

    DOI: 10.1191/0309132505ph579oa

    A key paper that focuses on three approaches to studying the spatial constitution and expression of militarism. This includes wide-reaching overviews of traditional military geography, the political geographies of armed conflict, and the political economics and sociocultural geographies of militarism. The latter approach considers the critical role of cultural representations of the military in legitimizing and justifying the spaces and places of militarism.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.