Military Sociology Essay

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Military sociology employs sociological concepts, theories, and methods to analyze the internal organization, practices, and perceptions of the armed forces and the relationships between the military and other social institutions. Some of the topics of investigation include small group processes related to race/ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, leadership, policy, veterans, combat, historical cases, the USA and foreign military organization, international affairs, manpower models, the transition from conscription to all-volunteer forces, the social legitimacy of military organization, the military as a form of industrial organization, and civil—military relations.

The military and its members have been an abundant source of information to address a broad range of sociological subfields. Military sociologists often use the differences and similarities between the military and society in conducting their analysis. Military sociology has been used to understand the military and its relationship to other social institutions and also social institutions in and of themselves.

Military sociology can roughly be divided into three distinct time periods corresponding roughly to World War II (1941—50), the cold war (1950—89), and the post-cold war (1989—present) eras. During each of these periods there have been general topics of study which have driven analysis, debate, and study within the field.

Early military sociology was dominated by people in the USA. Some of the early pioneers were Samuel Stouffer, Edward Shils, Morris Janowitz, and S. L. A. Marshall. Their studies used an applied research approach, applicable at the individual and group levels of analysis, to understand soldier adjustment, motivation, and small group processes during World War II.

Military sociology rapidly expanded during the cold war. The cold war caused many to think about how to control large standing forces and ensure that they remained subservient to civil authority. This is referred to as the civil—military relations debate which was spearheaded by Samuel Huntington (1957) and Morris Janowitz (1960).

In 1960 Janowitz founded the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society (IUS), which began publishing its own journal, Armed Forces and Society, in 1972. In 1965 Charles C. Coates and Roland J. Pellegrin published the first major military sociology textbook, Military Sociology: A Study of American Military Institutions and Military Life. The topics that they presented are still generally regarded as the focal points of military sociology.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s military sociology moved toward understanding the social implications of the Vietnam War on both the military and society. In the USA political, social and economic strife were manifested in the US military in the form of increased use of illicit drugs, fragging incidents, absenteeism, draft evasion, and race riots within the ranks of the US Armed Forces.

The establishment of the All-Volunteer Force in 1973 produced an onslaught of military sociological thought and debate. The Journal of Political and Military Science, founded in 1973 at Northern Illinois University, and Armed Forces and Society were the two major journals that provided a forum for these debates.

In the early 1970s Charles C. Moskos developed the institutional/occupational (I/O) model, which suggested that military service was moving away from being a calling towards becoming an occupation. This theoretical model was the impetus for much of the debate within the field throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. During the 1980s the field continued to grow and became more internationally focused. The number of international sociologists studying within the field increased substantially during this decade.

The end of the cold war changed the nature of war and how states viewed the use of their militaries. Military sociology has attempted to understand how these changes have impacted the relationship between the military and society. Throughout this period there was also a concern that a culture gap existed between civil society and the military. The ensuing debate, originated by Peter Feaver and Richard Kohn, produced large volumes of work. Recently, the events of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have added a new chapter to military sociology


  1. Booth, B., Kestnbaum, M., & Segal, D. R. (2001) Are post-cold war militaries postmodern? Armed Forces and Society 27: 319.
  2. Eric, O. (ed.). (2005) New Directions in Military Sociology: de Sitter Publications, Ontario.
  3. Huntington, S. P. (1957) The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
  4. Janowitz, M. (1960) The Professional Soldier: A Social and Political Portrait. Free Press, Glencoe, IL.

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