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military sociology

Irving Smith

Military sociology is an interdisciplinary sub
field of sociology that employs sociological con
cepts, theories, and methods to analyze the
internal organization, practices, and percep
tions of the armed forces as well as the relation
ships between the military and other social
institutions. Some of the topics generally cov
ered in military sociology include small group
processes related to race/ethnicity, gender, and
sexual orientation, leadership, policy, veterans,
historical cases, United States and foreign
military organization, international affairs, man
power models, the transition from conscription
to all volunteer forces, the social legitimacy of
military organization, the military as a form
of industrial organization, and civilmilitary
relations.
The military institution and members of the
armed forces have been an abundant source
of information to address a broad range of socio
logical subfields including demography, stratifi
cation, social psychology, comparative sociology,
and theory. Military sociologists often use both
the differences and similarities between the mili
tary and society in conducting their analysis.
The differences often spring from the unique
cluster of duties and sacrifices asked of service
members and the technology they use to per
form their jobs. The similarities examined
often assume that the military is a microcosm
of society. This assumption stems from the fact

long range bombers, the Draper Laboratory
and other powerful actors created an interest
in guided missile technology. Importantly, the
construction of the strategic need for guided
nuclear missiles was simultaneous with (not
prior to) their technical development. The tech
nology was neither above politics nor beneath it.
Guided missiles were not inherently better than
long range bombers and so ordained to replace
them, and Draper was not ordered from
above to find alternative weapons of nuclear
war. Instead, there was a creation of an interest
in a particular technological form in order to
institutionalize it to make it appear a logical
and natural progression.
More recently, Mary Kaldor has argued that
increased weapon accuracy combined with
information technology (IT) has revolutionized
warfare in that it has enabled what she terms
the spectacle war to take place: warfare that
the aggressor can fight at a distance, with mini
mal casualties and beam home live for its citi
zens to watch on their televisions. For Kaldor,
the cruise missile is the paradigmatic weapon of
the spectacle war, but she also highlights com
puter gaming as an example of defense trans
formation because it enabled the military to
image future wars through IT simulations from
which they derived new ways of thinking and
new ways of fighting. More notable, however,
is Kaldors paradox: modern military technol
ogy has led to a decline in military power. The
increasing destructiveness of modern weapon
systems means that superior technology rarely
affords control of a territory or outright mili
tary victory. In the new wars battles between
armed opponents are rare, with almost all the
violence inflicted on civilian populations.

SEE ALSO: Big Science and Collective
Research; Gendered Aspects of War and Inter
national Violence; Military Sociology; Political
Economy of Science; Technological Determin
ism; Technological Innovation; War

REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED
READINGS

Bud, R. & Gummett, P. (Eds.) (1999) Cold War,
Hot Science: Applied Research in Britains Defence
Laboratories 1945 1990. Science Museum, London.