Decoding a Royal Marine Commando: The Militarized Body as Artefact, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Decoding a Royal Marine Commando

The Militarized Body as Artefact, 1st Edition

By Mark A. Burchell


134 pages

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Hardback: 9781472466075
pub: 2018-10-12
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With a heritage dating back to the mid-seventeenth century, the Royal Marines have accrued a rich history of rituals, artefacts and material culture that is consciously deployed in order to define and shape the institution both historically and going forward into an uncertain future. Drawing upon this heritage, Mark Burchell offers a unique method of understanding how the Royal Marines draw upon this material culture in order to help transform ordinary labour power to political agency comprising acts of controlled and sustained violence. He demonstrates how a barrage of objects and items - including uniforms, weapons, landscapes, architecture, personal kit, drills, rituals, and iconography - are deployed in order successfully to integrate the recruits into the Royal Marines' culture. It is argued that this material culture is a vital tool with which to imprint the military's own image on new recruits as they embark on a process of de-individualisation. Having been granted unprecedented access to the Commando Training Centre at Lympstone as an anthropologist, Burchell observed an intake of recruits throughout their demanding and exhausting year-long training programme. The resulting book presents to the academic community for the first time, a theorised in-depth account of a relatively unexplored social community and how its material culture creates and reifies new military identities. This path-breaking interdisciplinary analysis provides fresh understanding of the multiple processes of military enculturation through a meticulous revision of the relationships that exist between disciplinary and punishment practices; violence and masculinity; narratives and personhood; and will explore how these issues are understood by recruits through their practical application of body to physical labour, and by the cues of their surrounding material culture.

Table of Contents



Chapter 1



Abstract Anthropology as Fieldwork Technique


Chapter 2

Culture Shock and Initial Adaptations to the Regime of Discipline

Arriving at the Commando Training Centre

The First Training Weekend

Early Group Formation

Arriving at the Field and Exiting Jack

Chapter 3


When Drill Sergeant Says ‘YOU’ He Means ‘YOU All’

Identical efforts: ‘The Room Swap’

The Dreaded Kit and Weapon Inspection

Afters: The Post-Inspection Body Sacrament

Chapter 4

The Phase of Identification

Extracts from January: We All Get Punished for Each Other’s Mistakes

Extracts from February: A Cold Commitment to Pain

Extracts from March: Fortification of the Group We’re Becoming

A Surprise Enemy Attack

Extracts from April: Specialist Instruction

Extracts from May and June: We’ll Get by With a Little Help from Our Training Team *

9th, 10th& 11th July: Confirmation Weekend

Chapter 5

Exchanging Exhausted Bodies for Excellence: The Testing Stage

Day Two: The first Pass-out Test




Recruit Narratives and the Re-Contextualisation of a Bottom Field Experience *

Hard Training is Made Easy with Taff Around

Days Three, Four and Five: Living in the Open Environment

Day Six: Three Tests in One Day

Day Seven: More Practice amid the Tests

Day Eight: Ceremony and Taboo

Day Nine: The Nine-Mile Speed March

Day Ten: The Tarzan Assault Course and Preparation for the 30-Miler

Chapter 6

Ceremonial Acceptance

The Closing Feet Ritual

Final Reflections before the 30-Miler

The 30-Mile Run

The ‘Final’ Finish Line

The Green Beret Award Ceremony

Day Twelve: Discussions about Self-Empowering Narratives

Day Thirteen: His Final Chance

Day Fourteen: Emerging from Liminality

Chapter 7

Conclusions: Civilian to Commando from an Anthropological Perspective

Violence and Masculinity: A Socially Acceptable Identity

Disciplinary and Punishment Rituals: Types and Practices

Discipline: Types and Practices of the Royal Marines

Surveillance: Brickwork and Imagination

De-Individualization and Personhood: A Sound Investment

Narratives: Re-Creating a Body Experience

Re-creation of pain narratives

Self-empowerment narratives

Future masculine-action narratives

Re-Individualization: Acceptance into the Royal Marines





About the Author

Mark A Burchell is a former Royal Marine Commando who received his PhD at the University of Bristol. He is appointed as professional anthropologist atDefence Science and Technology Laboratory (MOD), Porton Down, UK.

About the Series

Material Culture and Modern Conflict

The Material Culture and Modern Conflict series adopts a genuinely interdisciplinary approach to re-appraise the material legacy of twentieth and twenty-first century conflict around the world. It offers a radical departure in the study of modern conflict, proving a truly interdisciplinary forum that draws upon archaeology, anthropology, military and cultural history, art history, cultural geography, and museum and heritage studies.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General