The Sociology of War and Violence

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Section on Peace, War and Social Conflict Past Award Recipients | American Sociological Association

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Together with theories of the obsolescence of major war, this means that the future of war lies in the global South. Thinking about the future of war must now focus less on the possibility of great power conflict though that cannot be discounted and more on wars, armed conflicts, and military operations in the global South.

Here social scientists must recognize that we understand less about the dynamics of conflict in these societies than we do about the societies of the global North. This means that the foundations of thinking about future war require more research on ethnicity, religion, development, democratization and state-building in these societies. As recent research into the cultural dimensions of war has demonstrated, war is itself a cultural construct. This matters for empirical social science as well, since different framings of the problem will lead us to different answers.

Category: War and conflict

Does all armed conflict constitute war, or only organized armed conflict between states? What about civil war, revolution, rebellion, insurgency, ethnic cleansing, genocide, etc.? These questions about how wars will be fought, about who will fight them, and for what, and whether the nature of war itself is mutating have been addressed by different groups of thinkers that often communicate poorly with each other. Military organizations generate a considerable literature on the future of war.

Sociology of peace, war, and social conflict

Much of this focuses on the technological and organizational aspects of military operations e. When it comes to questions of who will fight and for what, military writings tend to rest on an impoverished version of social science, informed more by pundits and futurologists rather than by professional social scientists. There exists a vast and varied industry of pundits from academics to journalists, from professionals in think-tanks to independent scholars and writers, who earn a living by making pronouncements about possible futures.

Some rely more on professional social science than others: they are a diverse collection. For many, driven by ideological visions, empirical testing is a minor consideration.

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Nevertheless, they have a receptive audience and influence decision-makers. If it is the case that the findings of professional social science have not been well incorporated into the thinking of the military and other policy-oriented thinkers, part of the responsibility for this rests with social scientists themselves. Sociologists have been reluctant to study war. When they have done so, they have worked on the fringes of the phenomenon, leaving out — inter alia — the actual conduct of war itself. In part this stems from a reaction to the war in Vietnam, in part to concerns about disciplinary boundaries.

Sociologists have been, with few exceptions, reluctant to enter into territory claimed by political scientists. Michael Mann has argued that the failure on the part of sociology to fully grasp the centrality of war to processes of social change is embedded in the very liberal foundations of the discipline. In recent years historical sociologists have gone some way towards remedying this neglect, but much remains to be done.

The way forward is not simply through better sociology.

CARTA: Violence in Human Evolution – Carol Ember: Resource Unpredictability Socialization and War

The future of the sociology of the future of war also depends to a considerable extent on a more considered engagement with more policy-oriented thinkers. Among the questions sociologists should be asking are the following: What are the likely causes of war in the next twenty years or so? What are the risks of major war? What kinds of ethnic and religious issues will generate war? What are the links between poverty, resource scarcity, democracy and state capacity and the likelihood of war?

How can war be prevented?