Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Military Training. Group, Culture, Total Institution, and Torture

Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Military Training. Group, Culture, Total Institution, and Torture

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The subject of this article is the military institution, with particular reference to the training, the military culture and the socialization processes that characterize it.

Even though this theme is particularly significant, it is often neglected by social scientists. Its relevance derives from the fact that war is a social fact par excellence (Dal Lago, 2005) as it is closely interconnected with the social cohesion of society (here, we are thinking of mass deaths, mourning, the destruction that war entails). It also presents itself as a set of particularly complex processes (economic, cultural, political, juridical, etc.) involved in the transformation of society itself.1

Ours is an increasingly militarized society that manifests its profound transformation through the phenomenon that some scholars have called the double movement. This is the trend which involves policing carried out by the military and military action carried out by the police (Dal Lago, Palidda, 2010; Barnao, Saitta, 2014).2

It is against this background of great change, for example, that we have seen a radical shift in the structure of the armed forces and police forces in many European countries (see Caplow, Vennesson, 2000; Barnao, Saitta, 2012). This is mainly due to: a) the growing commitment of international war operations and so-called 'peace keeping'; b) the abolition of military service and the emergence of professional armies; c) the creation of privileged channels for the passage from army to police, and consequently the entry of huge numbers of veterans into the police force; d) the de facto militarization of police activities through the use of technological war equipment, for example, to control borders and street demonstrations (Bigo, Tsoukala, 2008).

However, despite its relevance, this subject is often overlooked by social science literature, or is not dealt with in enough detail or with due care. The reasons for this may be both political and methodological (as we know, these two perspectives often intertwine and overlap). It is an especially difficult subject to study from a political point of view as it is so complex, and involves such disparate dimensions and the most diverse levels of society. In fact, 'war is the continuation of politics by other means' (Von Clausewitz, 1940), but also, 'politics is the continuation of war by other means' (Foucault, 2003).

From a specifically methodological point of view, access to the research field is often extremely difficult, especially for independent sources. As a total institution, military institutions are closed off and frequently impenetrable for those on the outside, and military institutions rarely allow access to external subjects wishing to study its characteristics. Most of the research on the military institution, therefore, has been conducted either by sources within the institution itself or by those who are not sufficiently independent from it (see Cockerham 2003).

In this paper, I approach the subject by using the results of micro-sociological research, which mainly refer to the conceptual instruments of Symbolic Interactionism. In fact, the concepts typical of the interactionist tradition (e.g. primary group, total institution, socialization) become central to any research that deals with the study of social relations related to military training.

I will begin by introducing some of the studies that describe and analyze the main aspects of the military institution from a cultural point of view. Within the total military institution, military cultures are transmitted through socialization processes that see the primary group, the basic unit, as the main agent of socialization, since it provides emotional support and precise normative indications and values to its members throughout the process of socialization during training. Training, in turn, follows well-defined phases during which recruits are guided as they learn the norms, values, traditions, techniques, etc. …

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