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Inside and outside: An investigation of social media use by Australian Defence Force partners

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posted on 2023-11-02, 23:46 authored by Amy JohnsonAmy Johnson
Those who love and marry serving members are impacted by their military service. Partners experience the effects of deployment and relocation differently to serving members, but still profoundly, with impacts on their emotional, physical and mental well-being. Partners, in their support of the member, play a critical role in military capability. Partners directly impact the availability of the member for deployment and partners who are resilient and cope well with the significant demands of military life are more capable of supporting the member’s ongoing enlistment. Studies which focus on the needs of Australian Defence Force (ADF) partners are limited, despite previous research indicating the importance of partners to Defence capability. Studies of ADF partners conducted since 2009 by the Department of Defence and Defence Families of Australia indicate a shift in support-seeking and interaction; away from ADF-associated support organisations like the Defence Community Organisation (DCO) to informal support sources, including groups on social media sites. These Facebook groups, created by ADF partners and designed to connect the ADF family community, appeared to be offering partners access to information and support. This thesis is the first to investigate the communication, information and community needs of ADF partners, with a focus on social media use. This study collected qualitative data about ADF partners, providing insight into this highly influential yet under-studied group. This study investigated four research questions, all of which sought to understand the role online support communities perform in the life of ADF partners. This study used a digital (social media) ethnographic and sociological framework, collecting the insights and experiences of 35 partners through semi-structured interviews and focus groups. 34 of the participants were female, with one male participant. Transcripts of the interviews and focus groups were thematically analysed to generate five main findings, each which focuses on one aspect of ADF partner use of social media; community, networks, trust, identity and security. These five themes are explored individually in dedicated chapters. Also, this study uniquely contributes an insider researcher approach to understanding the issue. Through the application of Anthony Giddens’ theory of late-modernity, this thesis found ADF partners, who operate in this late-modernity society, do not have their social and informational needs met by the modernist ADF organisation. This is evident through the interactions with virtual communities, as well by partners having reduced trust in the ADF. This study demonstrates ADF partners use social media as a network for navigating their inherently risky lives. Social media and informal support networks fill gaps in ADF-affiliated services in a way that best aligns with their ideology. This study argues the ADF is an abstract organisation and military-provided supports operate as access points to that system. Partners’ interactions on social media provide evidence of their interaction within that system. The study offers recommendations to the ADF and affiliated support organisations. These recommendations include aligning ADF support systems with partner values through changes to the DCO model and online security training. These findings are critical for those who work with and support ADF families to perform their essential role alongside serving military members.



Central Queensland University


Central Queensland University

Additional Rights

I hereby grant to Central Queensland University or its agents the right to archive and to make available my thesis or dissertation in whole or in part through Central Queensland University’s Institutional Repository, ACQUIRE, in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. I retain all copyright, including the right to use future works (such as articles or books), all or part of this thesis or dissertation.

Open Access

  • Yes

Era Eligible

  • No


Associate Professor Kate Ames ; Associate Professor Celeste Lawson

Thesis Type

  • Doctoral Thesis

Thesis Format

  • With publication