Understanding Military Sociology

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Military sociology is the sociological study of the military. It examines issues such as military recruiting, race and gender representation in the military, combat, military families, military social organization, war and peace, and the military as welfare.

Military sociology is a relatively minor subfield within the field of sociology. There are few universities that offer courses on military sociology, and only a handful of academic professionals that conduct research and/or write about military sociology. In recent years, most of the studies that can be classified as military sociology have been done by private research institutes or in military agencies, such as the Rand Corporation, the Brookings Institute, the Human Resources Research Organization, the Army Research Institute, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Furthermore, the research teams that conduct these studies are generally interdisciplinary, with researchers from sociology, psychology, political science, economics, and business. This by no means implies that military sociology is a small field. The military is the largest single government agency in the U.S. and the issues addressed surrounding it can have important ramifications for both military policy and the development of sociology as a discipline.

The Basis of Service

One of the most significant issues in military sociology in the U.S. post-World War II is the shift from drafting to voluntary service. This was a huge change and one whose impact at the time was unknown. Sociologists were and still are interested in how this change affected society, who the individuals were who entered the military voluntarily and why, and whether this change affected the representativeness of the military (for example, are there more uneducated minorities who enter voluntarily than were selected in the draft)?

Social Representation and Access

Social representation refers to the degree to which the military represents the population from which it has been drawn. Sociologists are interested in who is being represented, why the misrepresentations exist, and how representativeness has changed throughout history. For example, in the Vietnam War era, some civil rights leaders alleged that African Americans were overrepresented in the armed forces and therefore accounted for an unfair amount of casualties. Gender representation also developed as a major concern during the women’s rights movement, generating major policy changes concerning the participation of women in the military. In more recent years, when President Bill Clinton overturned the military ban on gays and lesbians, sexual orientation became the focus of major military policy debate for the first time. This topic has come into the spotlight once again after President Barack Obama repealed the "Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy so that gays and lesbians can now serve openly in the military.

Sociology of Combat

The study of the sociology of combat deals with the social processes involved in combat units. For example, researchers often study unit cohesion and morale, leader-troop relations, and motivation for combat.

Family Issues

The proportion of military personnel who are married has increased greatly over the past fifty years, which means there are also more families and family concerns represented in the military. Sociologists are interested in looking at family policy issues, such as the role and rights of military spouses and the issue of child-care when single-parent military members are deployed. Sociologists are also interested in military benefits related to families, like housing improvements, medical insurance, overseas schools, and child care, and how they impact both the families and the larger society.

The Military as Welfare

Some people argue that one of the military’s roles is to provide the opportunity for occupational and educational advancement to the less advantaged in society. Sociologists are interested in looking at this role of the military, who takes advantage of the opportunities, and whether the training and experience of the military offer any advantages compared to civilian experiences.

Social Organization

The organization of the military has changed in many ways over the past several decades – from the draft to voluntary enlistment, from combat-intensive jobs to technical and support jobs, and from leadership to rational management. Some people argue that the military is changing from an institution legitimized by normative values to an occupation legitimized by a market orientation. Sociologists are interested in studying these organizational changes and how they impact both those in the military and the rest of society.

War and Peace

For some, the military is immediately associated with war, and sociologists are certainly interested in examining different aspects of war. For example, what are the consequences of war for societal change? What are the sociological impacts of war, both at home and abroad? How does war lead to policy changes and shape the peace of a nation?

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Crossman, Ashley. "Understanding Military Sociology." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/military-sociology-3026277. Crossman, Ashley. (2021, February 16). Understanding Military Sociology. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/military-sociology-3026277 Crossman, Ashley. "Understanding Military Sociology." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/military-sociology-3026277 (accessed June 7, 2023).