In light of her recent article in The Age detailing her journey after she was instrumental in exposing the war crimes committed by the Australian Special forces, we take a look back at HPS alumnus Samantha Crompvoets and her journey through HPS and how it got her where she is today. A unique career path for the regular HPS graduate, it showcases the world that HPS opens and the many ways in which the skills it provides can be utilised.
Last year, Samara Greenwood sat down with Samantha to discuss her studies in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne. In this interview, originally published in the SHAPS forum, Samantha told us how time spent in HPS primed her for the rollercoaster of a career she later had. She discussed with us what many in HPS will consider the cornerstone of the discipline as it relates to the world outside the ivy covered walls of the university: the ability to see science and society from multiple angles, allowing the best analysis of a given situation.
HPS encouraged a particular form of critical questioning that set me up for my entire career.
Those who have studied in HPS know that it teaches you a certain way of analysing the world, one which seems farther reaching than even the broad title of "history and philosophy of science". Throughout your degree you are encouraged to approach what you study from as many angles as possible: historical, philosophical, sociological, political, and more. This kind of teaching helps those who later leave the discipline to pursue other paths, as Samantha did, to see "everything through the lens of HPS".
Samantha is a unique case, not only in HPS but across Australia. Like many, after completing her PhD, she searched for a path where her research would make an impact, and took advantage of her position in Canberra to work with government departments. She found her niche in research contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defence, looking into ways to improve the lives of women and others both in deployment and upon their return to Australia. It was through this that she uncovered something amiss among those stationed overseas, and began the search for what would eventually be uncovered as war crimes committed by the Special Services.
Unfortunately for Samantha, the Australian government does not take lightly the exposure of their dealings, and the consulting business Samantha had created took a hit. In losing the defence contracts she had gained during her time in Australia's capital, she lost the platform on which she had built her consulting business. Since then, she has shifted her focus away from the multi-million dollar defence research contracts, and has been delving into the root of these issues, tackling what leads to the kind of environment which allows these events to transpire.
To fix these problematic structures we don’t need lots of money thrown at shifting cultural values, but rather focused, impactful, micro changes. When we do the deep analysis to find where the issues are, we often find that if we change this structure, or this pathway of career development, then everything else can change because of that small shift. That micro-change forces larger change.
In her 2021 book, Blood Lust, Trust and Blame, Samantha discusses getting to the root of the problem through the lens of finding "blame". The blame originally rested on the "fog of war", that those who committed the crimes were not responsible for their actions, but were the victims of circumstance, circumstances which drove them to commit atrocities. Samantha looks, instead, to the culture which allowed people to even consider these actions. The Australian Defence Force deals with "histories of abuse and secrecy, sexual harassment, and problems of diversity and inclusion", which have come together in a perfect storm to attract men capable of the actions committed in Afghanistan.
Samantha worked hard with the skills she gained through her studies to create a successful business, one built around helping those who had fought overseas. It was then pulled from under her as a result of the same desire to use her research skills for good which had allowed her to build that business in the first place.
Dr Samantha Crompvoets has conducted extensive empirical research on a number of military cohorts, for both the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Defence, including reservists, women, special forces, Indigenous soldiers, and veterans. Dr Crompvoets is a member of the NATO SAS-144 panel developing the Code of Best Practice for Conducting Survey Research in a Military Context. She is Chair of the Australian Centre for Excellence in Post-Traumatic Stress and sits on a number of advisory boards across the defence and security sector. She consults through the company she founded, Rapid Context, and her most recent publication is Blood Lust, Trust and Blame, part of the In the National Interest series by Monash University Publishing.