Deep Sight book contract

Jonathan Roberge and I have just signed a contract with McGill-Queen's University Press to publish a manuscript based on our Deep Sight project. The book will provide a new theoretical perspective to bear on the convergence of algorithmic technologies of visualization, an extremely important but understudied technological domain that will quite literally change how we see the world. The study is based on interviews and focus groups with everyday Canadians as well as a range of scientists and engineers in the visualization industry.

REVIEW: Geva's "Conscription, Family and the Modern State"

My review of Dorit Geva's "Conscription, Family and the Modern State" (Cambridge UP) has just been published in the American Journal of Sociology. 

It's a wonderful book. In it, she compares American and French conscription policy, channeling Tocqueville while also bursting the exceptionalism bubbles of both countries. The biggest take-away is that negotiating conscription (a critical prerogative) has long required states to negotiate with its competitor institution, the family, deepening the family-state nexus. It brings to mind some of my dissertation advisor Julia Adams's work but also has wide interest for those interested on military sociology. 

Online First - The Transgender Military

A piece I wrote with Marek Posard is now seeing the light of day as an online first article in an upcoming special issue of the Journal of Sociology. The special issue is edited by Brad West and Steve Matthewman, two great antipodean scholars and very generous and supportive colleagues. The issue focuses on their new sociology of war. Our article is already dated -- the US transgender military ban was lifted after it went to print. Nevertheless, the argument still holds: the American military is grappling with a truly bizarre convergence of generous social policy provisions and a conservative organizational culture, which creates all sorts of flexion points that reveal the depth of military political agency.

Here it is. 

New Grant! - "Deep Sight"

Happy to announce that my co-PI Jonathan Roberge (INRS, Quebec) and I have been awarded a SSHRC grant to fund our study of algorithms of seeing. The project is titled "Deep Sight: Algorithmic Visuality in Everyday Life in Canada" ($58,000.00) and will involve extensive content analysis, interviews with tech people, and focus groups with Canadians in several cities. 

What we want to discover is how new ways of seeing the world shape social interactions and broader political outcomes related to the management of state power. It will a fascinating project to work on and ideally will fill in the gaps in my understanding of how high-tech military solutions are going to shape the dynamic of democratic oversight of the state's monopoly of legitimate violence.

Accepted article

Happy to report my study of military sexual assault was accepted for publication with the UK journal Politics. The piece is co-written with Jensen Sass and in it we explore the role of political scandal in shaping the work of very powerful, traditionally-closed organizations. The big take-away is that military leaders knew about the sexual assault crisis in the US military for decades before they started to take it seriously. What changed? Media interest forced their hand in creating an internal accounting agency (SAPRO); this in turn triggered a cascade of media interest that couldn't be simply bluffed away.

Charles H. Coates Commemorative Award

I was surprised and humbled to receive the Charles H. Coates Commemorative Award, recognizing contributions to military sociology. When I came to Maryland, I viewed myself as a political sociologist interested in certain aspects of military life. Now, I'm not so sure.

On one hand, I've gotten to know many of the people who identify as military sociologists and have developed a lot of admiration for how they challenge and enrich the self-understanding of militaries. My papers on transgender policy and sexual assault are intended to share in that spirit.

On the other hand, I'm increasingly convinced that my subconscious has a plan of its own, and that it doesn't really fit in any tradition. I seem to be constantly searching for ways to show how military sociology (as an intellectual tradition and as a set of issues in the world) can be fit within a political sociology or political science approach. 

The take-away is that the challenge I see facing military sociology today is to find productive new ways to connect it to other fields, but particularly fields that unlock the sometimes-ignored, sometimes-hidden political processes that infuse the military realm.

PS The award is named for former Maryland faculty Charles Coates, co-author with Roland Pellegrin of the first textbook on military sociology -- which I found very helpful back during my prospectus-writing days.

Teaching military sociology

I've just finished grading my first solo class, Military Sociology at UMD. The course drew a fair amount from Meredith Kleykamp's syllabi from past years, but also gave me the chance to teach and think more deeply about a number of the issues that have been occupying my attention: the military-media link; the role played by private contractors in global conflict; transgender policy concerns; the wars-make-states tradition; and more. It was a pleasure to find such receptive and thoughtful students and (I was surprised to find) a pleasure to grade their very thoughtful essays. Thanks to any of my students who happen across this website!

For those interested in teaching a similar course, I'll upload a syllabus on another page, but would also be happy to talk about what did and didn't work.

ARI grant

Just wanted to share the good news that my co-PI Meredith Kleykamp and I have been awarded our big Army Research Institute grant. The funding will total about $800,000 and will enable us to systematically study the changing place of military professionalism in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force along multiple axes. Very excited to get going with this project!

Military Sexual Abuse article

Edit: This article is now an R&R with Politics.

About a month ago, I finished a draft on an article that I presented back at the SSS in New Orleans in March. At that time, I had done the initial analysis of the data and came to realize that the military had effectively buffered itself from near-constant criticism of rampant sexual assault for decades. I was therefore interested in figuring out why suddenly in the past five years all sorts of policy changes have finally been implemented. Subsequently, in reassessing the argument with my colleague Jensen Sass, we figured out a new perspective on scandal: in effect, we have developed broad expectations that we can effectively govern through scandal. This is a sort of market logic to media outcomes: scandals that should win out do win out, eventually, and organizational change follows. That at least is one aspect we explore in the current paper, but it raises more questions than it answers. What scandals do allow for effective governance? What sorts of scandals are least likely to lead to real policy change? (These may become the basis for a third article in our little co-authored series on scandal.) 

Military Justice chapter

Just finished a draft of a handbook chapter on military justice, cowritten with my colleague Meredith Kleykamp. At the end of the piece, we look ahead to cyber security and the issues this raises for national militaries. For the United States, the lack of political will to cede sovereignty to international organizations and transnational regulation seems to me likely to cause huge problems in dealing with cyber issues, since the military is so ill-equipped in its institutional culture to deal with these issues. Here again we see big pressures to offload risk to civilian contractors, who in this case are also enormously advantaged in terms of ability. One version of the future military will be an integrated team of legal experts and strategic communications experts advising commanders on what sorts of risks are acceptable in a given scenario, and an integrated team of cyber specialists working in tandem with (or in place of) operatives on the ground to bend their opponents. Another version would be a team of shooters sent in after the cyber people have done their work. In other words, political risk (measured in law and optics, nationally and globally) will have to supplement the use of force, both actual and virtual. Whether military organizations want to follow the long path to gaining those competencies or will choose to offload them to other agencies (public or private) remains to be seen.

Upcoming conference

I'll be presenting two papers at the upcoming Canadian Sociological Association conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 3rd, at 1:45 (Fauteux Hall, 147A) and 3:30 (Fauteux Hall, 351).

The first paper is my pitch the core ideas of my dissertation project as a fairly mainstream sociology article, focusing on the intersection of political and media sociology. 

The second paper is a one-off project with a UMD grad student and concerns the debate in Canada over the militarization of the Canadian Coast Guard. Our interest with that project is to see how well we can balance an effort to engage provocatively in public policy while remaining sociologically interesting.

Young Turks

Just got back from the "Young Turks" conference in Durham. The conference is run through Duke's American Grand Strategy program and was a chance for a small group of junior people in the civil-military relations field to present their work to each other and to a small group of senior people. Lots of very sophisticated projects, almost all by political scientists, and very rich conversations following the presentations. I presented the argument I've been developing for a while about the suppression of domestic political concerns from the work of American operational strategy and American civil-military relations theory (a related phenomenon in my view). I was happy to see that the baseline intuition was shared by a few other junior people who had the same frustrations -- i.e. the place of politics in strategy is one of the big areas where the field needs to address if it's to stay viable. Unfortunately, I don't think I managed to translate my ideas into a theoretical vocabulary that will find traction among political scientists. The next step of that project is to get to a point where I can demonstrate the costs of ignoring this issue while providing a productive theoretical framework that other people can use. 

New publication: "Coser, Lewis A." IESBS 2/e

An encyclopedia article I wrote a few years back has finally been published in the new version of the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (IESBS, 2nd edition). For some reason, I'm very enamored with the piece, maybe just because of the inspiring life led by Lewis Coser and the fond memories of meeting some of his (equally inspiring) students as a result. In a nutshell, Coser strove over many decades to unite his political engagement with his multi-dimensional sociological research. One big lesson is the value of writing well -- writing about things that actually interest people. 

(The IESBS was one of the first social science resources I discovered when I started my PhD. Richard Breen sang its praises in an introductory methods course and indeed I've found it helpful over the years. So, it was a great feeling when my friend Andreas Hess invited me to participate.)

It can be read here with an institutional subscription.

Upcoming conference: Society for Military History, Montgomery AL, tomorrow

Presenting some work from my dissertation/ book project at the Society for Military History tomorrow. This is the end result of a panel Tommy Sheppard and I first started planning almost a year ago, when neither of us had PhDs, and we were both at Yale.  

1:30 in the Montgomery 1 room, with details from the program:


Chair:            Richard H. Kohn, University of North Carolina

A Radical Change of System: The Creation of the Navy Board and Civilian Control in the U.S. Navy

Thomas Sheppard, University of North Carolina

The U.S. Army vs. the Fahy Committee: Implementation of Racial Integration of the Army

Richard Cranford, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College

Autonomy, Capacity and the Publicity Strategy of the U.S. Army, c. 1941-1991

Thomas Crosbie, Yale University

Comments:    Lance Betros, Army War College

SSS, air power and double effect

As I noted in an earlier post, I presented new research on organizational responses to sexual assault in the military at the Southern Sociological Society last Thursday. Happy to have received some helpful comments, particularly from other scholars of the military. A standout presentation was by staff at the Air Force Academy, who described a course where students are first taught about the sorts of legal and moral issues that have been common during the COIN/ GWOT era, and then implement their teachings in highly realistic combat drills, which include the use of a drone. That same day I happened across a cheap copy of Tami Davis Biddle's Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare. The combination of the USAFA experiment and Biddle's argument about strategic bombing got me thinking about the long history of air power's "double effect".

If the intention is to kill an adversary, and the side effect is terror in a civilian population, then the use of air power is justified according to some metric of minimizing that side effect. (This might create a moral burden to educate a civilian population about your air power capabilities, which would be a strange sort of propaganda.) The other possibility, of course, is that the goal is to instill terror in a given population and effective targeting is a side effect. Biddle's book (and others, e.g. Dodge's Inventing Iraq) stress that air power decisions also follow a third pathway, back to domestic politics. The true goal for some on the air staff may be organizational in nature, i.e. to gain resources in an existential struggle with the sister services. Killing enemies and terrorizing the population may in that case both be side effects. Which of the two is given priority may shift as the conditions for assessing making the case for air power itself shifts.