Dissertation Abstracts

'On Behalf of the Nation': A sociological study of the Wootton Bassett Repatriations

Author: Gaus, Aline J, aline.gaus@gmail.com
Department: Dept. for Sociological Studies
University: University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Prof Richard Jenkins
Year of completion: 2015
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: death , ritual , military , identity
Areas of Research: Armed Forces and Conflict Resolution , Communication, Knowledge and Culture , Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations


With the Wootton Bassett rituals, a new landmark was set for British war commemoration. After six years of quiet military repatriations of fallen soldiers through another airbase, the flights had to be rerouted to RAF Lyneham and the hearses carrying the flag-draped coffins now passed through the heart of the nearby Wootton Bassett on their 50-mile journey to a military hospital in Oxford. Unexpectedly, this contingency triggered a series of events that gave birth to a community-led, local ritual that had remarkable national impact.
This thesis is based on an in-depth ethnographic study that tells the story of the start, the consolidation and the end of this unusual and unprecedented ritual practice to commemorate the fallen and pay respect to them and their families. It takes advantage of this highly unusual opportunity to follow a process of ritualisation from its beginning, and explores how in this case ritual was employed to make sense of an unexpected and hitherto unexperienced situation, and to manage the emotional charge of that situation. In addition, the study also analyses the effect of this phenomenon and locates it within its social, cultural, historical and political context.

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