Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

A Phenomenology of War: A Theoretical Inquiry into the Existential-Hermeneutic Structure of War, with Empirical Reflections on the case of the British Soldier in Afghanistan

Gilks, Mark (2023) A Phenomenology of War: A Theoretical Inquiry into the Existential-Hermeneutic Structure of War, with Empirical Reflections on the case of the British Soldier in Afghanistan. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent, Brussels School of International Relations. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.102011) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:102011)

Language: English

Restricted to Repository staff only until May 2026.

Contact us about this Publication
[thumbnail of 206gilks2023phd.pdf]
Official URL:


Drawing on the work of Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Hans-Georg Gadamer, I propose in this thesis a phenomenology of war. Theorising war as a particular way of Being-in-the-world, I am concerned with the phenomenological processes through which war is embodied, experienced, and enacted - and with how these processes constitute the possibility of war's continuity in history. The overarching methodological argument is that war, as a structure of human affairs, must be phenomenologically grounded. War studies literature has recently conceived an ontology of war, but unless this ontology of war is firmly grounded in human Being-in experience and action as it persists in time-there will remain a tendency to hypostatise war as an inevitable and external fate. Within this framework, I make two main theoretical arguments: First, I make a hermeneutic claim that war is essentially historical and that it should be understood as a tradition which is "handed down" and "taken up" between generations; and second, I make an existentialist claim that the fundamental structure of war is Being-against (an Other). Integrating these arguments, I show that war is ontologically contingent on the human body which carries it forth as a structure of Being in time. Having developed this phenomenology of war in Part One, Part Two then seeks to exemplify this methodology through an examination of the case of the contemporary British soldier in Afghanistan. Across three chapters, I examine: (1) how the British soldier is constituted as a subjectivity in war; (2) how the Afghan war scene within which the soldier exists is constituted; and (3) how the soldier is constituted in relation to the prospect of death. The main contribution of this thesis, as such, is to introduce phenomenology into war studies as a method for understanding and critiquing war.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Guichaoua, Yvan
Thesis advisor: Toros, Harmonie
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.102011
Uncontrolled keywords: War, Afghanistan
Subjects: J Political Science
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Funders: University of Kent (
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 10 Jul 2023 07:10 UTC
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2023 08:13 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.