Sociology Current

Sociology of War

Sociology of War

Published on:
04 Nov 2023

Written by:
Pranay Aggarwal

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The News:

  • On 24 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine in a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War that began in 2014.

  • Sociological analysis:

  • The study of war became embedded in sociology through the mid-19th-century writings of Weber and Marx.

  • Weber and Marx established conflict theory within sociology, specifically linking the modern state apparatus with the use of organized, coercive violence.

  • Marx’s materialist conception of history linked the technologies of war to specific modes of production. He also advocated armed proletariat revolution as the only way to demolish the coercive power of the modern state.

  • Weber’s definition of state power on the other hand, in terms of the monopolization of the legitimate use of force within its claimed territory continues to form the foundations of current understandings of the modern state. It also helps in understanding warfare as distinct from other forms of violence.

  • Three major perspectives of the Sociology of war revolve around:

    Structure functionalist:

  • The structural-functionalist perspective views war as a tool to fulfill societal needs by performing its functions.

  • Robert. E Park’s in his book-The Social Function of War: Observations and Notes (1941), outlines the functions of war as follows:

  • War aids in the resolution of international disputes on issues like territorial boundaries, religion and other ideologies.

  • War helps to build a strong sense of social bonding and solidarity within warring societies.

  • War creates in the state a political institution that has made collective action possible, a feature absent in primitive societies.

  • War aids in increasing employment rate as it boosts the growth of industries and the economy.

  • War inspires scientific and technological developments that are useful to civilians.

  • The Conflict perspective:

  • The Conflict perspective states that when resources, power and influence are inconsistently spread across groups in society, disputes and wars occur. Such conflicts act as an accelerator of social reform.

  • According to the conflict theory, nations spend more on the military and even go to war because defense leaders, arms manufacturers, and politicians work together to form a mutually beneficial relationship to strengthen their political strength and economic status. For example, the west will gain opportunities when Ukraine starts to rebuild itself after the war.

  • Another conflict perspective as given by Boggs (2011) also criticizes that war is non- beneficial to society as it consumes a significant part of the budget which could otherwise be allocated for societal needs.

  • The Symbolic Interactionists:

  • Symbolic interactionist perspective focuses on the role of symbols and experiences associated with war and its influence on the members of society. For example: the use of flags to promote patriotism etc.

  • Thus, symbols are used during the period of war, by leaders and media to promote the idea of patriotism, nationalism and create a sense of solidarity and support for the war.

  • Symbolic representations and shared experiences help the smooth functioning of the internal structures of the warring parties.

  • Symbolic interactionism also creates an idea of embodied war experiences of veterans and martyrs as symbols to influence the public and gather their support for the war. (K Mc Sorley, 2014)

  • This dynamic is called the external conflict/internal cohesion process.

  • Similarly, the military often refers to civilian deaths or wounding as collateral damage in a conscious or unconscious attempt to minimize public horror at civilian casualties.

  • Other important perspectives include the feminist perspective on war.

    Feminist perspective:

    Feminists denounce war as extension of patriarchal notions to the International arena.

    Sjoberg in her book, Gendering Global Conflict, gives a number of causal variables in war decision-making. These include structural gender inequality, state masculine posturing, and the often overlooked role of emotion in political interactions.

    Katharine A. M. Wright believes that the absence of women from both Ukrainian and Russian negotiation delegations, or in the gendered silences of just who is seen to fight/be protected in Western media coverage highlights the patriarchy ingrained in the core concept of war.

    Kamla Bhasin also believes that wars are often fought on the turfs of women’s bodies. Hence, women suffer and are exploited disproportionately more as compared to men during war times.