Auto-ethnography and the Study of Affect and Emotion in World Politics: Investigating Security Discourses at London’s Imperial War Museum

  • Audrey Reeves
Part of the Palgrave Studies in International Relations book series (PSIR)


At the Imperial War Museum in London, UK citizens and international tourists immerse themselves into stories of ‘Britain at war’ through interactive exhibits, themed cafes, and gift shops that engage them affectively: they stimulate the senses, choreograph bodily movement, and stir the soul. Auto-ethnography at the museum involves the tracing of one’s sensory interactions, movements, and consumption within this space. Embedded in a discourse analysis that also includes curators’ reports and visitors’ online reviews, auto-ethnography reveals the crafted character of visitors’ experiences of war. It documents how the museum engineers affect and, in so doing, promotes the idea that the UK wages ‘just wars’, thus reinforcing international support for its current and future interventions abroad.


  1. ALVA. (2016). 2015 Visitor Figures. Retrieved July 26, 2016, from
  2. Amoureux, J. L., & Steele, B. J. (Eds.). (2015). Reflexivity and International Relations: Positionality, Critique, and Practice. Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, K., & Smith, S. J. (2001). Editorial: Emotional Geographies. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 26(1), 7–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ben, K. (2016, July). War Museum – Imperial War Museum, London Traveller Reviews. Retrieved July 28, 2016, from
  5. Bourdieu, P. & Darbel, A. (1969). L’Amour de l’art, les musées d’art européens et leur public. Paris: les Éditions de minuit.Google Scholar
  6. Brigg, M., & Bleiker, R. (2010). Autoethnographic International Relations: Exploring the Self as a Source of Knowledge. Review of International Studies, 36(3), 779–798.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Büscher, M., Urry, J., & Witchger, K. (2011). Mobile Methods. Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Campbell, D. (1998). Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  9. Carver, T. (2002). Discourse Analysis and the “Linguistic Turn”. European Political Science, 2(1), 50–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Charlotte, Y. (2016, July). Great Fun – Imperial War Museum, London Traveller Reviews. Retrieved July 29, 2016, from
  11. Cohn, C. (2006). Motives and Methods: Using Multi-sited Ethnography to Study US National Security Discourses. In B. A. Ackerly, M. Stern, & J. True (Eds.), Feminist Methodologies for International Relations (pp. 91–107). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dauphinee, E. (2010). The Ethics of Autoethnography. Review of International Studies, 36(3), 799–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1980). Mille Plateaux. Paris: Éditions de minuit.Google Scholar
  14. Doty, R. L. (1993). Foreign Policy as Social Construction: A Post-positivist Analysis of U.S. Counterinsurgency Policy in the Philippines. International Studies Quarterly, 37(3), 297–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Doty, R. L. (2010). Autoethnography – Making Human Connections. Review of International Studies, 36(4), 1047–1050.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Duffield, M. (2010). The Liberal Way of Development and the Development—Security Impasse: Exploring the Global Life-Chance Divide. Security Dialogue, 41(1), 53–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ellis, C., Adams, T. E., & Bochner, A. P. (2010). Autoethnography: An Overview. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1).Google Scholar
  18. Enloe, C. (2000). Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  19. Eriksson Baaz, M., & Stern, M. (2013). Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War?: Perceptions, Prescriptions, Problems in the Congo and Beyond. Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet; London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  20. Eriksson Baaz, M., & Stern, M. (2016). Researching Wartime Rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo: A Methodology of Unease. In A. T. R. Wibben (Ed.), Researching War: Feminist Methods, Ethics and Politics (pp. 117–140). Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Fitzgerald, J. (2015). Why Me? An Autoethnographic Account of the Bizarre Logic of Counterterrorism. Critical Studies on Terrorism, 8(1), 163–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Foster + Partners. (2016). Imperial War Museum. Retrieved July 28, 2016, from
  23. Foucault, M. (2002 [1969]). Archaeology of Knowledge. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Foucault, M. (2012 [1977]). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  25. Fullagar, S. (2001). Encountering Otherness Embodied Affect in Alphonso Lingis’ Travel Writing. Tourist Studies, 1(2), 171–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hansen, L. (2006). Research Designs: Asking Questions and Choosing Texts. In Security as Practice: Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War (pp. 73–92). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Haraway, D. (1988). Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3), 575–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hatch, W. (2014). Bloody Memories: Affect and Effect of World War II Museums in China and Japan. Peace & Change, 39(3), 366–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Holland, J. (2015). Constructing Crises and Articulating Affect After 9/11. In Emotions, Politics, and War (pp. 167–181). London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Holland, J., & Solomon, T. (2014). Affect Is What States Make of It: Articulating Everyday Experiences of 9/11. Critical Studies on Security, 2(3), 262–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Imperial War Museums. (2014a). About IWM London. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from
  32. Imperial War Museums. (2014b). Annual Report and Account 2013–2014. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.Google Scholar
  33. Inayatullah, N. (2011). Falling and Flying: An Introduction. In N. Inayatullah (Ed.), Autobiographical International Relations: I, IR (pp. 1–12). Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. IWM. (2014). About IWM Duxford. Retrieved May 14, 2015, from
  35. Jauhola, M. (2015). On “Being Bored”: Street Ethnography on Emotions in Banda Aceh After the Tsunami and Conflict. In Emotions, Politics and War (pp. 86–99). Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Jonas, H. (2001 [1966]). The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Kavanagh, D. (2004). Ocularcentrism and Its Others: A Framework for Metatheoretical Analysis. Organization Studies, 25(3), 445–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Laclau, E. (2004). Glimpsing the Future. In S. Critchley & O. Marchart (Eds.), Laclau: A Critical Reader (pp. 279–328). Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  39. Laclau, E., & Mouffe, C. (2001). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  40. Levin, D. M. (1999). Introduction. In Sites of Vision: The Discursive Construction of Sight in the History of Philosophy (pp. 1–68). Boston: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  41. Lisle, D. (2000). Consuming Danger: Reimagining the War/Tourism Divide. Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 25(1), 91–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lisle, D. (2006a). Sublime Lessons: Education and Ambivalence in War Exhibitions. Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 34(3), 841–862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lisle, D. (2006b). The Global Politics of Contemporary Travel Writing. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lisle, D. (2013). Frontline Leisure: Securitizing Tourism in the War on Terror. Security Dialogue, 44(2), 127–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. London & Partners. (2015, May 20). London Welcomes 17.4 Million International Visitors in Another Record-Breaking Year for Tourism. Retrieved May 21, 2015, from
  46. Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Massumi, B. (2005). The Future Birth of the Affective Fact. Presented at the Genealogies of Biopolitics.Google Scholar
  48. McCormack, D. P. (2003). An Event of Geographical Ethics in Spaces of Affect. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 28(4), 488–507.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mulvey, L. (2006 [1975]). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. In Media and Cultural Studies (pp. 342–352). Malden, MA, Oxford, Carlton: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.Google Scholar
  50. Nussbaum, M. C. (2003). Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Parashar, S. (2015). Anger, War and Feminist Storytelling. In T. Gregory & L. Ahäll (Eds.), Emotions, Politics and War (pp. 71–85). Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  52. Pile, S. (2010). Emotions and Affect in Recent Human Geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35(1), 5–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Powell, R., & Kokkranikal, J. (2015). Motivations and Experiences of Museum Visitors: The Case of the Imperial War Museum, United Kingdom. In V. Katsoni (Ed.), Cultural Tourism in a Digital Era (pp. 169–181). Athens: Springer International Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Robben, A. C. G. M. (1995). The Politics of Truth and Emotion Among Victims and Perpetrators of Violence. In Fieldwork Under Fire: Contemporary Studies of Violence and Survival (pp. 81–104). Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA; London: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  55. roger_cook45. (2016, July). Great Day Out…– Imperial War Museum, London Traveller Reviews. Retrieved July 28, 2016, from
  56. Ross, A. A. G. (2006). Coming in from the Cold: Constructivism and Emotions. European Journal of International Relations, 12(2), 197–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Shapiro, M. J. (2013). Studies in Trans-disciplinary Method: After the Aesthetic Turn. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  58. shropshiretraveller9. (2016, July). Lots to See and It’s Free! – Imperial War Museum, London Traveller Reviews. Retrieved July 28, 2016, from
  59. Solomon, T. (2015). Embodiment, Emotions and Materialism in International Relations. In L. Åhäll & T. Gregory (Eds.), Emotions, Politics and War (pp. 58–70). London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  60. Spry, T. (2001). Performing Autoethnography: An Embodied Methodological Praxis. Qualitative Inquiry, 7(6), 706–732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sylvester, C. (2011). The Forum: Emotion and the Feminist IR Researcher. International Studies Review, 13(4), 687–708.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Sylvester, C. (2015). Art/Museums: International Relations Where We Least Expect It. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  63. Thrift, N. (2008). Non-representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  64. Wakeman, S. (2014). Fieldwork, Biography and Emotion: Doing Criminological Autoethnography. British Journal of Criminology, 54(5), 705–721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Waterton, E., & Watson, S. (2014). The Semiotics of Heritage Tourism. Bristol and Buffalo: Channel View Publications.Google Scholar
  66. Weldes, J. (1999). Constructing National Interests: The United States and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  67. Wetherell, M., Yates, S., & Taylor, S. (2001). Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader. London and Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Google Scholar
  68. Yanow, D. (2014). How Built Spaces Mean? A Semiotics of Space. In Interpretation and Method: Empirical Research Methods and the Interpretive Turn (pp. 368–386). Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Audrey Reeves
    • 1
  1. 1.Cardiff UniversityCardiffUK

Personalised recommendations