Academic journal article Geography

Changing Places: The Armed Forces, Post-Military Space and Urban Change in Plymouth, UK

Academic journal article Geography

Changing Places: The Armed Forces, Post-Military Space and Urban Change in Plymouth, UK

Article excerpt


Militarism recognises that society is economically, socially or culturally geared to accept and support military power. Consequently, military geographies can have a profound impact on places and affect the ways in which they change (Woodward, 2017). Sometimes, these are obvious, such as when wars lead to the destruction and rebuilding of lives and places. In times of peace, military facilities can influence local economies, shape social relations and impact on landscape (Bateman and Riley, 1987; Gold and Revell, 2000; Woodward, 2004, 2005). More subtly, war memorials, air displays and heritage sites reveal the changing ways in which society views or values the military (Rech, 2015). As Rachel Woodward has rightly asserted: 'Military geographies are everywhere. But often you have to know where to look. Military geographies may be everywhere, but they are often subtle, hidden, concealed, or unidentified' (2005, p. 719).

Yet, when the Cold War ended, Shaw (1991) argued that a 'post-military' society emerged in which 'global society is far from militarised, and the peoples of the world are preoccupied mostly with economic and social concerns rather than military ambitions' (p. 105). This shift in focus is not to suggest that armed forces and militarism have ceased to be important, but, for many nations, there has been a step back from the large-scale deployment of conventional forces towards smaller, flexible, more technological forces aimed at new forms of warfare. The contraction of the British Armed Forces has had important impacts on localities. In some instances, military bases have closed or declined, which has led to significant social change. Other bases have been re-developed for civilian use, often as part of local regeneration strategies that are designed to diversify the economy away from a reliance on the Armed Forces. Indeed, it is particularly important to create new forms of employment and to provide social and welfare support for veterans as the numbers of service personnel decline. In short, a post-military society means that the Armed Forces have become less influential and less visible, but with important consequences for the society, economy and landscape of many places.

This article is divided into two main sections. The first details how military expansion has affected Plymouth since the thirteenth century, with mention made of specific areas affected. The second main section considers whether Plymouth might now be thought of as a 'post-military' city in light of geopolitical change over the past 30 years. This section also looks at how veterans have been affected by demilitarisation of the city. Throughout both sections consideration is given to the ways that military and post-military geographies have contributed to changes in urban morphology, local economies and the social geographies of the city. The concluding section draws attention to the future of research in military and post-military geographies.

Militarism and Plymouth

Military activities were one of the main drivers of urbanisation and growth in Sutton, Stonehouse and Devonport, the three original historic towns that were merged to become the Borough of Plymouth in 1914 (Figure 1).1 In each place, significant military installations led to changes in the built form, the economy and society.


Sutton Harbour was established in 1281 at the mouth of the River Plym. It was originally a fishing village, but trade links with France and, later, the British colonies meant that Sutton's status and significance grew, making it a strategic target in times of war. In response, a series of defences were built that included a chain that could be raised across the harbour, a ring of block-houses armed with cannon and, in the fifteenth century, Plymouth Castle (Pye and Woodward, 1996). The area is known today as The Barbican, thus reflecting the importance of fortifications in the way in which places are imagined. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.