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Sitting at ease: British military graffiti in an operational camp in the 1970s

Charles Kirke (Kirke Research and Consultancy Ltd, Swindon, UK)

International Journal of Organizational Analysis

ISSN: 1934-8835

Article publication date: 19 September 2019

Issue publication date: 10 January 2020




This paper aims to describe, analyze and explain British military graffiti (“latrinalia”) in ablutions blocks in two operational camps in the 1970s. This material was chosen for two reasons: first, it allowed the researcher to approach what the soldiers were thinking about and sharing in an unofficial context; second, such material is not represented in the scholarly literature on the British army. The aim of the research was, therefore, to explore a regularly occurring but under-researched field of British army organizational culture.


Latrinalia from one operational base was recorded and analyzed by quantity and type into a typology that emerged from the data. From this analysis, areas in which the graffiti authors were preoccupied were deduced. These graffiti were compared with similar material recorded from a different unit (with no personnel in common with the first) in the same context, two years later.


There was extensive common ground between the two sets of graffiti, particularly in the areas of identity, attitudes to the campaign, and opinions held about officers. Differences in the sets of results were explained by reference to factors external to the military campaign.

Research limitations/implications

In view of the paucity of other research with which to compare, confirm or refute the findings of this study, further research on British military graffiti is needed.

Practical implications

It is clear that ablution graffiti/latrinalia in military units on operations provide insights into a unit’s organizational culture and matters of current concern to the soldiers. Such graffiti may, therefore, be considered as a useful ethnographic source.

Social implications

There are implications for the better understanding of soldiers’ concerns on operations.


The paper approaches a hitherto unexplored aspect of the lived experience of British soldiers on operations.



Kirke, C. (2020), "Sitting at ease: British military graffiti in an operational camp in the 1970s", International Journal of Organizational Analysis, Vol. 28 No. 1, pp. 291-311.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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