Military Sociology Research Paper

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As sociology evolved as a discipline in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was strongly influenced by the ideological and humanistic concerns of the day. Military organization and war as a social process were given little attention. However, the institutional presence of the military was acknowledged. Herbert Spencer (1908), an early social Darwinist, saw social organization evolving from primitive military forms to advanced industrial societies. In contrast, Karl Marx and his followers saw military forces as necessary for the imperialism that capitalist industrial societies would have to pursue as they exhausted domestic raw materials and markets. More frequently, the military provided the organizational context within which theorists who were concerned with grand narratives addressed general substantive concerns. For example, Max Weber (1968), in his economic sociology, acknowledged the role of the military as the agent of the state for the legitimate monopolization of organized violence and drew heavily on the Prussian Army as the prototype for his general model of bureaucratic organization, and Émile Durkheim (1951) viewed participation in the military as one of the social conditions affecting the rate of suicide in his study of social integration. It is still the case that sociologists whose primary interest is not the military institution use the military as a site for research on a range of more general social phenomena (e.g., Bryant 1979).

Spencer’s expectations have not been realized in the modern world. Most major industrial societies are also military powers, and neo-Marxist scholars point to the role of the military in international capitalist expansion. In many nations, such as Switzerland and Israel, the military plays a major integrative role in society. In developing nations, the military has repeatedly played a significant role in modernization, although there is little consensus on the reasons for this. Even in modern nations, where the military frequently plays a less central role, it is likely to affect the lives of a large proportion of the population through its impact on economic, political, familial, and educational institutions. In the early twenty-first century, one cannot read a newspaper in any major city in the world without being struck by the impact of the military. In contrast, if one’s reading were confined to sociology journals, one might not know that the military existed.

Early 20th Century

Boene’s (2000) analysis of the growth of military sociology in the United States reflects its slow start. Of his catalog of publications in the field, only about 5 percent were published before 1942. He attributed the slow growth of the field largely to ideological liberalism, a meliorist orientation to social problems within the discipline, and war weariness after World War I. This was not to say that war and the military were disregarded by social science generally. Many of the early contributions were by psychologists and political scientists, and while this ultimately produced an interdisciplinary orientation in “military sociology” that has continued, it also emphasized less sociological objects and units of analysis. Psychologists, particularly during World War I, focused on individual abilities and behavior and sought to make contributions through the development of aptitude testing for the military (Yerkes 1921) and the understanding of effectiveness (Munson 1921). Since then, military forces have been drawing on the contributions of psychologists, particularly in the areas of psychometrics and training.

Political scientists, for their part, sought to understand war as part of the process of international relations, reflected, for example, in Charles Merriam’s project on the causes of war, conducted at the University of Chicago with support from the Social Science Research Council. This project ultimately led to Quincy Wright’s (1942) seminal study of war. Little attention was paid to the military as a social institution, an organization, an occupation, or a profession.

World War II

The World War II period was a turning point both for the sociological study of the military and for sociology generally. The United States mobilized large numbers of academic sociologists, and other social scientists, in a variety of research and analysis roles in support of the war effort. Thus, the field of military sociology was initially dominated by Americans. Because the problems studied, like most important social issues, were not contained within the boundaries of a single discipline, these sociologists established a pattern of interdisciplinary collaboration, particularly with social psychologists. Because the army was the largest service, military sociology emerged primarily as the sociology of ground combat forces. And because the research was aimed explicitly at helping to manage the army and the war, it emerged primarily as an applied field—one oriented toward organizational and small-group processes rather than toward national or transnational concerns. As a policy science, it was concerned with army policies regarding soldiers and small units, rather than national policies regarding the army, and because of the nature and size of the mobilization, it focused primarily on the enlisted ranks rather than the officer corps.

Many of the sociologists who were mobilized in nonresearch roles in World War II recorded their experiences and observations in the sociological literature, for example, George C. Homans’s (1946) observations of social relations on a small warship, which ultimately contributed to his formulation of exchange theory, and Tamotsu Shibutani’s (1978) study of demoralization in a company of Japanese American soldiers. Reuben Hill (1949) conducted a landmark study of the stress that military service imposes on families, a topic that has come dramatically to the fore in the twenty-first century. The field of military sociology was greatly enriched by the contributions of sociologists who did not specialize in the military but had recorded their wartime observations. Indeed, in 1946, the major sociological journal of the day, American Journal of Sociology, published a special issue titled “Human Behavior in Military Society.” This issue included Arnold Rose’s (1946) study of military social structure, Alfred Lindesmith’s (1946) observations of the effects of their status in service on the self-esteem of teachers, and August Hollingshead’s (1946) article on adjustment to army life and to subsequent civilian life. Sociologists from other specialties continued to use the military as a venue for research and theorizing in the post–World War II years and to enrich the field by doing so. This trend has continued into the twenty-first century.

World War II also saw the War Department drawing on the knowledge of manpower economists to help manage the personnel assets of the nation in support of the war (e.g., Ginzberg et al. 1959). This disciplinary perspective has become increasingly important within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in the decades since World War II.

The major substantive sociological knowledge base of the field in the World War II period, as well as major conceptual and methodological advances in the discipline of sociology, came from the reporting of the results of experiments and surveys conducted by the Information and Education Division of the War Department. This program demonstrated the permeability of the boundary between social research and personnel management. The four volumes of Studies in Social Psychology in World War II, including the two-volume American Soldier studies authored by Samuel A. Stouffer and his colleagues (Stouffer, Lumsdaine et al. 1949; Stouffer, Suchman et al. 1949), covered a range of topics including cohesion, leadership, primary groups, morale, race relations (the army was still racially segregated), communication, and persuasion, which helped establish the research agenda of sociology and social psychology for years to come. The methodological contributions of this team to survey research, data analysis, and experimental design changed the face of quantitative sociology. Indeed, 35 years after the publication of The American Soldier, the major journal in sociological social psychology, Social Psychology Quarterly, published a retrospective review of the impact of this work (Clausen 1984a, 1984b; Lumsdaine 1984; Smith 1984; Williams 1984). As a result of these studies, the American military continued to use survey research as a personnel management tool after World War II, much as it had adopted selection and classification tests from psychology after World War I.

Other World War II studies, such as the work of Edward Shils and Morris Janowitz (1948) on the social dynamics of German army units based on interrogation of prisoners of war—a research strategy not permitted under current U.S. federal regulations regarding research on human subjects, demonstrated the permeability of the boundary between social research and military intelligence. A larger example of this was the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, a presidential commission established in 1944 to evaluate the effects of bombing civilian targets in Germany and the Pacific through the analysis of observations, documents, interrogations, and interviews. Hundreds of military and civilian personnel were involved under the direction of a board that included the economist John Kenneth Galbraith and the psychologist Rensis Likert. The reports generated by this survey argued for the ascendancy of air power in post–World War II conflicts and helped justify the establishment of the Air Force as a separate service.

In general, the topics that were studied during World War II have retained central positions in the current research agenda of military sociology, even as that agenda has been broadened by changes in military organization, civil-military relations, the nature of military conflict, and other global trends.

The Cold War

After the war, sociologists who had participated in the war effort returned to their colleges and universities or, in a few cases, their more applied pursuits and, with few exceptions, turned their research efforts to other social institutions and processes. Although publications reflecting wartime experiences continued to appear, there was little new research, despite a minor increase during the Korean War. However, after World War II, the American military became a significant continuing institutional peacetime presence for the first time in American history (Burk 2001). After earlier military conflicts, starting with the Revolutionary War, America had demobilized its forces. In contrast, after World War II, because of the new bipolar tensions in the international community reflecting the Cold War, America maintained a large force under arms (Segal and Segal 2004:4–5).

During the Korean War, the focus on group processes that had started in World War II continued. Roger Little (1969) conducted research reaffirming the importance of interpersonal processes for motivation and support in combat, and the Special Operations Research Office of Johns Hopkins University studied race relations in the newly integrated U.S. Army (Bogart 1969). Both the army and the air force became principal sponsors of extramural research on small-group processes, in part as a consequence of the army’s research on leadership and cohesion in World War II and the Korean War and also influenced by the apparent success of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in using principles of group dynamics in support of troop indoctrination and the building of military morale (Lifton 1963) as well as demoralizing American prisoners of war through “brainwashing.” This research was never well integrated into the field of military sociology, although it has continued to have influence in military psychology.

In the mid-twentieth century, there were occasional attempts by scholars to describe the structural relationships between military forces and their host societies in the modern world. C. Wight Mills’s (1956) The Power Elite and Harold D. Lasswell’s (1941) developmental model of “the garrison state” were among the most important of these. However, it was not until the 1960s that military sociology emerged as a viable academic field. At the turn of the decade, Samuel P. Huntington (1957), a political scientist at Harvard University, and Morris Janowitz (1960), a sociologist at the University of Michigan, published books on the nature of the military profession and its relationship to the state (in Huntington’s case) and to society (in Janowitz’s case). The professionalism theme came to dominate the research agenda of this field, and sociologists in several nations began to address the issues raised by Huntington and Janowitz in their own nations. At the University of Maryland, Charles Coates and Roland Pellegrin (1965) published the first (and still the only) textbook on military sociology. This concern with the relationships among the military, the state, and society added civil-military relations to the sociological agenda and shifted the focus of military sociology from the conscripts and enlisted personnel who held center stage in the World War II research to the officer corps and the nature of the military profession.

The 1960s saw the growth of an organizational infrastructure in military sociology with the establishment of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces & Society (IUS), a small group of American scholars from several universities with interests in military sociology who met periodically to discuss their research, initially at the University of Michigan and then at the University of Chicago. The IUS has grown to an international and interdisciplinary group of more than 600 scholars; it meets every two years but still maintains the atmosphere of an invisible college rather than a professional association. At the international level, the Research Committee on Armed Forces & Society of the International Sociological Association was formed and began to bring military sociologists from a number of nations together every four years at the World Congresses of Sociology. This research committee has evolved into the Research Committee on Armed Forces & Conflict Resolution. More recently, scholars concerned with military sociology in Europe have formed the European Research Group on Military and Society.

Another reflection of the internationalization of the field was its incorporation of social scientists who were concerned with development processes in former colonized territories. One of the dimensions of this concern was the role of the military in the development process (e.g., Janowitz 1964). While much of the concern in this area was focused on authoritarian military rule in these areas, a special interest among American scholars was the ongoing war of national liberation in French Indo-China, the subsequent Americanization of the Vietnam War, and the eventual implications of that war for American military organization and military manpower policy.

The Vietnam War

Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, for the first time in American military history, elected not to use the military’s reserve components to mobilize for the Vietnam War but to depend on selective conscription of the large baby-boom generation to man the force. The social unrest in America during the 1960s was largely directed at the inequities of this conscription process, which placed the burden of waging the war disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor. Research on the internal dynamics of the armed forces during Vietnam was focused largely on themes that had characterized military sociology during World War II and the Korean War: group dynamics of leadership and cohesion (e.g., Savage and Gabriel 1976) and race relations (e.g., Moskos 1973). Added to these were drug use (e.g., Helmer 1974) and the shortcomings, inequities, and failures of the system of military conscription then in place (e.g., Curry 1985). A more long-term consequence was concern about the reentry of war veterans into society and the way the nation treated its military veterans (e.g., Scott 2004).

Before the Vietnam War was over, debates had begun in America, and among military sociologists, on ending conscription and manning America’s military force with volunteers. The debate on conscription brought labor economics into a central position in the social scientific analysis of the military, as the nation discussed whether labor market dynamics could be substituted for conscription as a means of raising America’s Cold War military (e.g., Friedman 1967). The issue of military conscription was widely debated in the early 1970s, and the 1972 defense appropriation provided funds for the establishment of an all-volunteer military force (Segal 1989:34–38). In January 1973, the U.S. DoD announced the end of peacetime conscription for the first time since World War II.

This would not be the first all-volunteer military force that America had. Voluntarism had been the rule, rather than the exception, through American history, and conscription had never been a popular alternative. However, it would be the first time America maintained a large standing force on a voluntary basis. Earlier in our history, we had ended conscription and demobilized in interwar periods. Given the bipolar tensions between East and West at the end of World War II and the advent of military aviation and nuclear technology, which deprived nations of the luxuries of time and distance from the battlefield when war broke out, we had never demobilized after World War II and starting in 1973, sought to maintain a standing Cold War force on a voluntary basis. Our national leadership decided that it had also been an error not to mobilize the reserve components for the Vietnam War. The failure to use these citizen-soldiers disrupted a historical linkage between the American military and the American people, and steps were taken to reconfigure the force so that we would not go to war again without the reserves. The appropriate role of the reserves in the total force has emerged as an important concern in military policy and military sociology.

The decision to end conscription in 1973 had a number of major impacts on military sociology. First, the American military recognized that while previously there had been volunteer military forces in the United States, they had always been demobilized interwar cadre forces. The nation had never attempted to maintain a large standing force on a volunteer basis. A large volunteer force was a challenging social experiment. The services showed a new willingness to draw on, and support, behavioral science research in support of organizational effectiveness to make this experiment a success. While the behavioral science programs of the Naval Personnel Research and Development Center, the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory, and the Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences (Zeidner and Drucker 1983) were dominated by psychology, they all had sociological components. Thus, military sociology grew in terms of both in-house research and extramural funded research, both in universities and in the research and development industry. Indeed, the post–Vietnam War volunteer military has undergone a major evaluation by social scientists at least once a decade (e.g., Bowman, Little, and Sicilia 1986).

Second, the substantive focus of the field was broadened. During the Vietnam War and the post-Vietnam years, there was increasing recognition that social trends in America were having an impact on the military. The armed forces had been racially integrated during the Korean War, but both America and her armed forces had been punctuated by racial tensions during the Vietnam War and postwar periods. Drug use had increased greatly among the American youth population, and this was reflected in the young people coming into the military. Women were entering the American labor force in increasing numbers, and the military had to confront the issue of gender integration. The manifestations of these trends in the military all became part of the subject matter of military sociology.

Third, the growth and broadening of the field led to significant increases in research and writing at a time when the major sociological journals, perhaps because of the ideological opposition to the Vietnam War that existed within the discipline, were unwilling to publish articles on war and the military. This, coupled with the increasing fragmentation of publication outlets in sociology, led to the establishment of two specialized journals, Armed Forces & Society, which was published by the IUS, and Journal of Political and Military Sociology. Both are now in their fourth decade of publication.

Fourth, military sociology began to reconceptualize the nature of military service and its relationship to society. One facet of this reconceptualization was to question the uniqueness of the military institution as the state’s agent for the legitimate management of violence and to explore the isomorphism between military service and other forms of employment (Biderman 1967). In particular, Moskos (1977) suggested that with the replacement of conscription by a volunteer force recruited by labor market dynamics, military service was being transformed from a value-based vocation to an economically based job. Moskos’s formulation, which was referred to as the institutional and occupational models, had implications for understanding both the individual soldier and the military organization (D. R. Segal 1986), turned the focus of military sociology from the officer corps to enlisted personnel once again, and came to dominate the research agenda of military sociology as increasing numbers of nations abandoned conscription in favor of volunteer forces (Haltiner 1999) and scholars in other nations applied Moskos’s models to their nations (Moskos and Wood 1988).

Many of the dimensions of change specified in Moskos’s formulation, as well as derivatives of the formulation, came to dominate the agenda of military sociology in the last quarter of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. For example, one derivative of the hypothesized convergence between military service and civilian occupations was the potential for military unionization, and this became an active area of research in the 1970s (e.g., Taylor, Arango, and Lockwood 1977). Closer to the specifics of Moskos’s model, the formulation suggested that the basis for legitimacy of the military institution was shifting from normative values of service to the dynamics of the market economy and that therefore recruitment appeals would shift from character qualities such as duty, honor, and country to compensation. This change was assumed by the military recruiting structure, and only recently has it been acknowledged that even in the absence of appeals to character in recruiting advertising, patriotic values have been as important, or more important, in the recruiting process as economic considerations (Woodruff, Kelty, and Segal 2006).

The formulation also assumed that military personnel would become less committed to the general military role of soldier and more to their specific occupational specialty and that their reference groups would be people who shared their occupations outside the military rather than other soldiers in different occupations. Research has shown that the former expectation is correct, and military personnel in the late twentieth century defined their appropriate duties in terms of specific military occupations (D. R. Segal 1995). However, in terms of general reference groups, military personnel were more likely to root their identities in their familial roles (Woodruff 2003) or religious affiliations (Trainor 2004) than in their military roles or in an external occupational community.

Moskos’s formulation suggested that women would increasingly be integrated into the military on an equal basis, and indeed, while full equality has not been achieved, major changes have taken place in the numbers and roles of women in military service both in the United States and in other nations (M. W. Segal 1995). This dimension is just one reflection of increasing concerns with diversity, including continuing concerns with racial equality (Moskos and Butler 1996) and emergent concerns with sexual orientation integration (Scott and Stanley 1994). Moskos’s formulation also posited a change in the nature of the relationship between the military and the families of its personnel, from a posture of inclusion to one of exclusion. In fact, the modern military is an increasingly married force that competes for commitment with the families of its personnel (M. W. Segal 1986), has faced demands from those families (Stanley, Segal, and Laughton 1990), and has attempted to accommodate to them in recognition of the effect they have on commitment, retention, and performance (Bourg and Segal 1999).

Perhaps most dramatically, Moskos’s formulation posited that the missions of the occupational model would focus less on the waging of conventional interstate wars and more on the constabulary or peacekeeping types of operations that Janowitz had hypothesized to be the focus of military professionals in the post–World War II world (e.g., Moskos 1976). Indeed, while the major powers largely avoided involvement in United Nations peace operations during the Cold War, the United States did get involved on a continuing basis in peace operations conducted under other auspices (Segal and Segal 1993).

The Current State of Knowledge

The nature of military organization and the relationship between the armed forces and society began to change markedly in the 1980s. Some of the changes that have been observed reflect the military increasingly adopting management strategies from civilian corporate enterprise. When the Cold War ended in Europe, military budgets in many nations were diminished and the size of military forces was reduced significantly (Segal and Babin 2000). At the same time, military missions were redefined from the waging of large-scale wars to contingency operations such as peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance. Downsizing, a strategy used in the corporate world to deal with economic downturns, was adopted by the military, and as was the case in the corporate world, military downsizing produced problems both for victims and for survivors of the process (Wong and McNally 1994). These processes took place overseas as well (Hamilton et al. 2001).

As forces were downsized, some military bases grew as a result of realignment of functions, and their growth had positive effects on the economies of the surrounding communities (e.g., Hicks and Raney 2003). However, a larger number of military bases were closed down, and civilian communities that hosted those bases experienced the same kinds of economic challenges that are confronted when industrial plants close down. Thus, the relationship between military bases and their host civilian communities became a focus of sociological research. We learned that communities that have a major military presence have less racial segregation in housing and less racial inequality in employment than other communities, supporting the assertion by most host communities that military bases were an economic asset. However, we also learned that gender discrimination in employment, in terms of higher unemployment, lower wages, and lower returns to human capital for women, was higher in communities with a major military presence (Booth et al. 2000).

While forces were being downsized, the number of contingency operations expanded markedly, and the survivors of downsizing—both individuals and military units—found that they were asked to do more work with fewer available resources, in terms of both taking on new missions (e.g., Segal et al. 1999) and deploying for old missions more frequently. Both processes have potential implications for morale and for retention (Reed and Segal 2000).

One way of accomplishing an increasing number of operations was to have those jobs most clearly requiring military competence and military status performed by military personnel but taking other jobs that had previously been performed by military personnel and having them done by civilian employees of the services. The U.S. DoD, for example, employs roughly 700,000 civilians, making up about 20 percent of the DoD workforce. An additional 20,000 military positions were scheduled to be transferred to civilian employment in 2004 to 2005, with more civilianization conversions in 2006 and beyond.

Another adjustment involved adopting yet another corporate strategy: outsourcing. Rather than having government employees perform tasks that had previously been done by military personnel, the military services increased the degree to which they contracted out support and, in some cases, core functions. The use of civilian contractors to support the U.S. military is not a new process. Civilian contractors have been used to support military operations since before the Civil War. However, the period starting with the end of the Cold War in Europe represents a unique phase in this relationship, during which civilian contractors are being used to offset a downsizing of the active military force when the number of missions and frequency of deployments is increasing. The sociological implications of having large numbers of civilian contractor personnel, who are not subject to military discipline and are not combatants under the terms of the laws of war, colocated with military personnel in a combat zone are in the very early stages of exploration (e.g., Kelty 2005).

One strategy to deal with increased numbers of missions and deployments with a reduced active military force that was not drawn from the civilian corporate world was a change in the use of reserve forces. As noted above, the reserves had not been mobilized in the Vietnam War, and despite the fact that in the post-Vietnam years the active and reserve components have been conceptualized as a “total force,” the image of the reserves has been that of a force in reserve, to be used only in the case of an emergency. For the National Guard, which serves as an agent of state government unless federalized, the state missions were regarded as paramount.

With the downsizing of the active force, by the end of the 1980s, almost as much of the army’s combat force was in the National Guard as in the active army. When the United States went to war in the Arabian Peninsula in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia, the total force was called up. At the maximum strength of Operation Desert Storm, more than 73,000 Army Reserve and National Guard personnel were in the combat theater, accounting for about a quarter of all army personnel there. However, the reserve units that were deployed were largely transportation, medical, military police, and other support units. Three National Guard combat brigades that were intended to bring active-duty combat divisions to full strength were activated but not judged combat ready and were not deployed. In the wake of the Gulf War, programs were put in place to improve the deployability of the National Guard.

In the mid-1990s, the army experimented for the first time with overseas deployment of reserve component personnel for contingency operations, initially serving as the majority of the American contribution to the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai Desert in support of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt (Phelps and Farr 1996). The success of that experiment led to expanded use of the reserves for contingency operations, generally in relatively small numbers, for six-month deployments. America’s invasion of Iraq in 2002, however, changed the role of the reserves from participants in contingency operations to participants in continuous operations, called up in larger numbers than at any time since World War II (between 40 and 50 percent of the personnel in Iraq in 2005 have been from the reserve components) and for longer periods of time—sometimes a year or more. This has had implications not only for the reserve component personnel but also for their families and their civilian employers. And it has required that the research agenda of military sociology, which had focused on the active force, be expanded to include the reserves as well.

Many of the topics of current research extend long-term research traditions. Despite the increasing international disfavor with military conscription and the belief that the less universal conscripted service is, the more inequitable it is likely to be, discussions in the United States about whether the Global War on Terrorism can be sustained without a return to conscription and in both Western and Eastern Europe about the future of conscription (Malesic 2003) have kept this a focus of current research. The nature of the military profession likewise remains an active research area, and where early Cold War conceptualizations of the profession were limited to the active-duty officer corps, the era of more highly educated, technically competent, and career-oriented volunteer forces has raised questions of whether enlisted personnel and noncommissioned officers, both active and reserve, should be included in the profession, whether the specialization of armed forces requires that we regard each branch as an autonomous profession, and the ways in which changes in the military profession reflect broader changes in the sociology of professions (Abbott 2002).

The processes of group dynamics that became focal points of research have continued to be active areas. The study of leadership has largely been left to social psychologists, who to a large extent have abandoned contingency and transactional approaches in favor of transformational models of leadership, based on charisma-like qualities (Bass 1998). Major changes have taken place in the conceptualization of cohesion in military units, focusing in part on the fact that the social cohesion based on homogeneity that was identified in World War II research as being important for the military has been used repeatedly as an argument against diversity in military forces without being shown to have a positive impact on performance (Segal and Kestnbaum 2002), while task cohesion, based on contributions to common goals, does not require homogeneity.

While many of the topics of military sociology remain unchanged, the sociological perspectives brought to bear on them reflect changes in the discipline. Thus, in the 1990s, questions that had been raised during the days of conscription by Janowitz and Huntington about relations between the military, the state, and society, and reflected in the early years of the volunteer force in attitude research by Bachman, Blair, and Segal (1977), were recast in terms of the trend toward culture studies in the social sciences, and questions were raised on whether the culture of the military was divergent from the culture of its host society (e.g., Feaver and Kohn 2001). Research showed that the American military does have a distinct culture, as would any profession studied, but that it is consistent with the culture of the broader society that it defends. This research topic achieved sufficient visibility in the late twentieth century so that like the topics of organizational change and military professionalism in the 1960s and 1970s, it has become a focus of European military sociology in the twenty-first century.

Another focus of late-twentieth-century sociology was postmodern theory, and the language of postmodernism increasingly appeared in analyses of soldiers (e.g., Battistelli 1997) and military organization (e.g., Moskos 2000). Moskos’s formulation has been particularly influential. Like his earlier conceptualization of the transition from an institutional to an occupational model, he postulated a shift from modern to postmodern military organization along a number of empirical dimensions, some of which mirrored the components of his earlier formulation, such as gender roles and the relationship between the family and the military. Others referred to more strategic and macro-organizational dimensions, such as changes in major mission and force structure, whereas the I/O model had focused on more micro-organizational dimensions such as recruitment appeals and role commitment. Like the I/O model, the postmodern model has been applied in a range of national settings (Moskos, Williams, and Segal 2000). The major finding has been that while Western industrial nations vary in their degree of modernity, there is no truly postmodern military. Indeed, a major critique of the postmodern military formulation pointed out that the template used to study it was rooted in positivistic science, which postmodernism would reject, and that a truly postmodern military would be no military at all (Booth, Kestnbaum, and Segal 2001).

One of the dimensions of Moskos’s postmodern model was the sexual orientation integration of the military, a process that has taken place in most European nations and to which a considerable amount of social science literature has been devoted. Two other trends in sociological research on diversity in the military are notable. The first is that other nations began to pay greater attention to gender integration in their armed forces (e.g., Dandeker and Segal 1996). The second was that increased attention has been paid to the intersections of race, class, and gender rather than focusing on disadvantaged statuses one at a time (Booth and Segal 2005). Important examples, which reflect an important emerging historical perspective in military sociology as well as the concept of intersectionality, are Moore’s (1996, 2003) studies of African American and Japanese American women who served in the U.S. military in World War II.

Another contemporary perspective that has been applied to traditional problems in military sociology is that of the life course. While much research was done in the last quarter of the twentieth century on the postservice status of veterans compared with their peers who did not serve, it was primarily done from a status attainment or bridging environment perspective. In the main, it suggested that men who served in World War II or the Korean War benefited from their service relative to their peers who did not serve, that this benefit did not extend into the Vietnam War and current volunteer force periods, that minority men benefited more than white men, and that among women veterans, minority women benefited more than white women (Segal 2005). More recently, the lifecourse perspective has been used to clarify the dynamics by which military service, and particularly service in wartime and in combat, affects the postservice life trajectories of veterans (e.g., Sampson and Laub 1996).

The changes that have taken place in the missions of the twenty-first century and the technological and political contexts within which those changes have taken place have broadened the scope of military sociology. Changes in communication technology have altered the relationship between armies deployed at war and the society they defend and between deployed soldiers and their families back home. World War II was seen on the home front through the eyes of war correspondents, whose copy passed through the hands of military censors before it appeared in the next day’s newspapers and in newsreels the following week. Headlines from the Vietnam War appeared on television the same day, with film on the evening news. The Gulf War was covered in part by CNN reporters in Baghdad reporting on the arrival of American bombs and rockets. And Operation Iraqi Freedom has been covered in part by reporters from the print and broadcast media embedded in military units and using modern communications media to file their stories in real time. These changes have altered the relationships between the military, the media, the state, and society.

At the level of the individual soldier, communications technologies for contact for families back home have progressed from mail, through telephones and faxes, to widespread use of the Internet (Ender and Segal 1998). These technologies alter the relationships within military families when soldiers are deployed and raise issues of information security to new levels.

The nature of the missions on which these soldiers are deployed has also expanded the scope of military sociology. The field as it grew during World War II focused on conventional military forces, allied with similarly organized forces and facing similarly organized adversaries. The Vietnam War sensitized military forces, and military sociology, to the differences associated with unconventional war, which reduced the relevance of large conventional military formations and emphasized the political dimensions of warfare, although the Gulf War closed the twentieth century with a conventional war. The late twentieth century saw major nations like the United States moving into the arena of peace operations. They had largely been excluded by Cold War peacekeeping doctrines that emphasized impartiality, since the major nations were likely to be interested parties in any area of the world in which conflict occurred. Thus, during the second half of the twentieth century, peacekeeping had largely become the domain of “middle powers,” such as Canada, the Netherlands, the Nordic nations, and smaller nations such as Fiji.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, with the Cold War over in Europe, peacekeeping norms changed, with more deviations occurring from impartiality, minimum use of force, and host nation consent. Major powers became increasingly involved in peace operations, not only becoming less martial and more constabulary in their orientations but also challenging the primacy of the middle powers in the peacekeeping arena. At the same time, nations with more pacific security policies, such as Japan and Germany, which had been limited by their post–World War II constitutions with regard to their military forces and to out-of-area military operations, were encouraged under new international norms of burden sharing to become involved in multinational peace operations, becoming more martial in their orientations (Segal and Kurashina, forthcoming). And the operations, in turn, became increasingly concerned with nonstate actors such as insurgencies and terrorism rather than conventional military operations. All of these changes have been incorporated into the field of military sociology.

While military sociology is still a small subfield of the discipline, in the last half century, and particularly since the end of the Cold War in Europe, it has grown significantly in substance, in size, and in impact both within the discipline and more broadly in society. It is increasingly common to find military sociologists quoted in news stories about armed forces and military operations in both print and broadcast media. Interest in the applied aspects of the field has grown in other nations—most dramatically in the nations of Eastern and Central Europe, as they have dealt with issues of potentially ending military conscription, adopting democratic models of civilian control of the military, modernizing and professionalizing their forces, and addressing issues of gender integration and military families. Indeed, the center of gravity of military sociology seems to be shifting from North America to Europe. There has been a moderate growth of academic interest in military sociology, with a slowly growing number of colleges and universities offering courses in the field, accompanied by a growing concern with the national and transnational implications and consequences of the nature of the military institution and its relationship to the state and to citizenship (e.g., Kestbaum 2002). And there has been increased sociological attention paid to air and naval forces. The field has retained a strong interdisciplinary orientation, with sociologists who study armed forces and society seeing their professional community consisting as much of other social scientists who study the military institution (economists, psychologists, political scientists, historians) as of sociologists who study other social institutions.


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