Organizational Reaction to Social Deviance: The Military Case

Organizational Reaction to Social Deviance: The Military Case

Organizational Reaction to Social Deviance: The Military Case

Organizational Reaction to Social Deviance: The Military Case


This study in criminology, sociology, and the US Military, explores changes in the meaning and production of deviant populations in American military settings since 1941. It is designed to highlight the operation of an ethos of control as armed forces and society undergo historically unstable accommodation and conflict. The author examines time series data on organizational reaction to deviance in military settings ('Bad Paper Discharges,'yen; courts-martial, and administrative controls) in light of central characteristics of military settings (the social composition of officer and enlisted ranks, force levels, technological changes in war hardware and the distribution of risks faced by various kinds of soldiers). Propositions from the deviance literature concerning 1) the constancy of punishment, 2) the duration, intensity, and priority of sanctioning, and 3) cohesion and stress are examined in military contexts to discern the changing social control climates therein. Some sources of the shift are located in the role that risk plays in the system and the function of the officer corps as agents of social control. In short: the character of social institutions is knowable, in part, by studying the manner in which deviants therein are controlled, stigmatized and expelled. An extensive bibliography is provided.


Military institutions require that varying degrees of coercion be used against their members as well as against enemies. On one level, the military is an agent of the state; on another, it imposes demands on citizens who must serve therein. The military also exposes soldiers to the authority of its officers, and to certain physical risks. There is also the possibility that time spent in the soldier role may result in formal sanctions being applied to soldiers if they are identified as having failed to meet the expectations of their superiors.

In this book I address the problem of social order within the American military. It is an examination of how and when commanders used various sanctions over four decades. As such, it identifies the changing patterns of organizational reaction to deviance and offers an interpretation that these represent the changing social control requirements of a complex organization.

The role officers play in controlling their troops gives meaning to an important part of the institution of soldiering. It also forms the social basis upon which “command” is predicated: that order takers in the ranks must comply with the demands and expectations of order givers. An internally coercive structure—the hierarchy of command—thus attempts to produce predictable behavior on the part of soldiers. This is a study of how such order is imposed.

The data used in this study show the different rates at which commanders sought to punish soldiers for shortcomings: through the courts (courts-martial); by discharge under less than honorable conditions (bad paper discharges) and through the use of non-judicial sanctioning (Article 15). That is, rates of organizational reaction to deviance are examined.

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