New article: "The Virtues of Military Politics" - Armed Forces & Society

Check out this article — very proud of what the brilliant Damon Coletta and me (less brilliant) did with this piece!

The Virtues of Military Politics (Armed Forces & Society, linked to the website here)

Sociologists and political scientists have long fretted over the dangers that a politicized military poses to democracy. In recent times, however, civil–military relations experts in the United States accepted retired or indeed still serving generals and admirals in high-ranking political posts. Despite customary revulsion from scholars, the sudden waivers are an indicator that military participation in momentous national security decisions is inherently political without necessarily being partisan, including when civilian authority defers to a largely autonomous sphere for objective military expertise. Military politics is actually critical for healthy civil–military collaboration, when done prudently and moderately. Janowitz and Huntington, founders of the modern study of civil–military relations, understood the U.S. military’s inevitable invitation to political influence. Here, we elaborate on two neglected dimensions, implicit in their projects, of military politics under objective civilian control based on classical virtues of civic republicanism: Aristotle’s practical wisdom and Machiavelli’s virtú.

JFQ Article: Getting the Joint Functions Right

Very happy to have a piece appear in Joint Force Quarterly (

The article (.pdf) provides a short history of what are known as the joint functions, a set of prioritized areas described in US and NATO doctrine and intended to help commanders make the best use of their resources. The history was reconstructed through digitized copies of old doctrine and is my first attempt at developing a foundation for a sociology of the operational level of war

New article: The Corporate War Dead

Online now with AFS:

The Corporate War Dead: New Perspectives on the Demographics of American and British Contractors

… Only a handful of studies have addressed the complex of issues associated with contractors’ demographics and lived experience. This article sheds some light over this lacuna, examining contractors’ demographics using descriptive statistics from an original data set of American and British contractors who died in Iraq between the years 2003 and 2016. The article augments our understanding of an important population of post-Fordist-contracted workforce, those peripheral workers supplementing military activity in high-risk occupations with uncertain long-term outcomes …

Golden Age, Revisited

Just out — an article I researched many years ago at the Marshall library in Lexington VA, had under review at a journal for nearly two years without ever getting reviewed, then let sit in my desk drawer for a few more years before finally revising it and submitting it to War in History, where I enjoyed a quick and painless editorial process. Very grateful to the editor and team at WiH.

The article shows that media management was a serious command concern of Marshall’s — surprising given that this was the golden age of the military’s control over media. Nothing is ever easy, however, and Marshall spent time every day of the war thinking about how journalists were shaping the war effort.

Here it is.

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.