Date of Degree
American Studies | Political Science | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sociology
citizenship, militarization, veterans, United States
In discussion with the literature on the treatment of veterans in the United States and the nature of American citizenship ideology, the following dissertation asks how post-9/11 veterans are defining, (re)creating, and contesting citizenship in the contemporary U.S. By studying a localized community of post-9/11 veterans, my dissertation highlights the dilemmas of U.S. citizenship at a time when the U.S. is engaged in a global War on Terror using less than 1% of the U.S. population as paid volunteers. Soldiers and veterans occupy states and spaces of exception, marking military citizens as distinct from civilians. Military citizenship benefits the nation by creating a pool of potential citizens willing to serve the nation-state and it helps service members by allowing them to demand social rights, inclusion and recognition they believe are owed to them as a result of their service. Yet military citizenship is unstable. Not all veterans can access the benefits and privileges of military service.
By documenting veterans accessing entitlements and services, like the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, while they reintegrate and readjust to “civilian” life, my research highlights how military citizenship is constructed. I explore veteran interactions with institutions and individuals on a college campus and consider the ways that interests, access, and needs differ between veterans and civilians. Through accessing their educational benefits, veterans and civilians were brought together, revealing how members of a local community understand and experience the military-civilian divide and shape notions of post-9/11 era citizenship. By analyzing the tension between military citizenship and the lived experiences of U.S. veterans, I highlight how military citizens experience effaced social rights, inclusion and recognition on the post-9/11 home front.
Chapter one frames the return of post-9/11 veterans to the homefront by analyzing the central federal benefits program created to assist with veterans’ reintegration and readjustment to civilian life: the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. By analyzing the material benefits and privileges granted to College of Staten Island (CSI) student veterans through the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, I highlight how veterans are an exception to the neoliberal status quo experienced by other college students given they have greater choice over their education, finances, and ultimately their future, reinforcing veteran’s military citizenship. Yet, unlike their civilian counterparts, student veterans remain financially constrained in spite of their access to ample federal funding due to their socioeconomic status.
Chapters two and three address CSI veterans struggling with civilian life in spite of their exceptional access to material benefits and privileges. By analyzing veterans’ effaced social inclusion and recognition during Veterans Day events and debates centered on establishing a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program, it became clear that veteran identity is socially constituted throughout the individual’s lifetime in military and non-military institutional and social contexts. When lacking the structure and meaning provided by the military that espouses military citizens as supercitizens, CSI veterans were confronting reintegration and readjustment within a civilian world whose institutions and ideologies did not uphold the special status of veterans as supercitizens. Thus, CSI veterans were navigating a liminal space despite living in a militarized United States. As a result, it became clear that the social context marks veteran-ness as privileged other or a marginalized other in spite of whether a veteran or a civilian believes in the valuing of former members as supercitizens.
Chapter four is a discussion of how liminality varies within the veteran population, focusing on women veterans’ strategies in veteran and civilian spaces as well as the university’s “empowerment” initiatives. Building on experiences with soldiering as well as military and non-military institutional and social contexts, the gendered hierarchy produced in the military and reproduced in veteran and civilian contexts also shapes veteran identity. As a result, the hyper-masculine supercitizen is the norm, subordinating women veterans through a hierarchy of valor and a fraternity of service.
Anthropologists have documented the cross-cultural experiences of soldiers and veterans, highlighting their relationship to the nation-state and within their national and local communities, to reveal the ways bodies, ideals, practices, and subjectivities are being configured via bodily experience, trauma and illness (Young 1995; MacLeish 2013; Hautzinger and Scandlyn 2014; Wool 2015) as well as historical memory and acts of resistance to war (Carbonella 2003; Gutmann and Lutz 2010; Leitz 2014; Masco 2014). My ethnographic fieldwork moves this discourse forward by studying veterans’ status on the homefront, specifically their status as citizens. Anthropological research on veterans and citizenship has primarily focused on how undocumented migrants and legally marginalized groups access rights through military service (Plascencia 2009; Gutmann and Lutz 2010). By asking how are post-9/11 veterans are defining, (re)creating, and contesting citizenship in the contemporary U.S., my ethnographic project explains the dilemmas of citizenship through the study of post-9/11 veterans within a localized community as they access entitlements and services while confronting reintegration and readjustment to civilian life.
Ponti, Estefania, "Military Citizenship in the Post-9/11 Homefront" (2018). CUNY Academic Works.