Paint it black: Colours and the social meaning of the battlefield

Xavier Guillaume*, Juha Vuori, Rune Andersen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The modern battlefield is a judicial and social space as well as a spatio-temporal designation that has evolved through time. In this article, we argue that the shifts in the social meaning of what the battlefield is — from a ‘deeply social marker of war’s limitation’ (Mégret, 2011: 133) to a hunting ground of a party over its game — can be seen in the colour-use on the battlefield. More specifically, we argue that the shift in the use of colours in military battlefield uniforms, from conspicuously colourful to camouflaged and blending in or disrupting shapes, can be seen to work as a semiotic vehicle to understand societal meanings attached to the battlefield. This builds on the idea that ‘what soldiers wear is central to the public image of the military’ (Tynan, 2013a: 27), to their own modes of being and action, and to the meaning of the battlefield itself. The most evident reading of this development in colour-use tends to be a functionalist one, where the development of toned-down colours and camouflage goes along with technological advances and needs in the face of more and more powerful observation and targeting tools. We offer another reading. Arguing through a semiotic analysis of colour-use, we examine colour-use on military battlefield uniforms in light of how imaginaries and practices of the battlefield evolve.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-71
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

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