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Soldiers and Societies

Course 2013-2014


Purpose: 1. To provide students with a broad, social-scientifically grounded knowledge, of what it means to be a soldier nowadays, in the context of more or less warlike military operations. 2. To develop a theoretically based grasp of how the application of military force is restrained ánd complicated by strong societal expectations of minimizing casualties, first of all among ‘own’ soldiers.

Content: The first decade of the twenty-first century saw a surge in soldiering. Troops from around the world were deployed in ‘counterinsurgencies’ in Afghanistan and Iraq. Parts of Africa, enmeshed in ugly conflicts, were subjected to more or less robust peacekeeping. In this course we will take a close look at the experiences and
(self-)images of (professional) soldiers in the context of very different missions. On the one hand we zoom in on what it means to be a soldier in this day and age. We scan the soldierly body – protected ánd vulnerable – and try to read the mind of the warrior – resilient ánd dark. We carefully listen to soldiers stories, mediated in many ways. On the other hand we think through how current notions about the use of military force make themselves felt, in operational theatres as well as at home fronts. Nowadays societies and (post-)modern militaries, place high value on minimizing casualties. They both strongly prefer to restrain the application of violence, but at the same time, they seem to transfer the risks asymmetrically, to the detriment of citizens in conflict-ridden areas.

Every country, while reflecting similar underlying patterns, has its own ways of defining a nationally embedded approach to soldierhood. We take a shot at the weighty American example, not only dominant in the ‘real world’, but also in a diversity of ‘fictions’. We wonder about the ways in which European nations (a.o. Germany, Great-Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands) as well as Canada cope with the culture of restraint. We take a look at Israël, and keep wondering about (dis)similarities in soldiering.

Methods of Instruction

Lectures, discussion of readings and documentaries.

Study Material

Reader: a multi-disciplinary selection of journal articles and book chapters (500 – 600 pages), available through Readeronline (see homepage FSW). For each lecture, students are expected to read around four of these articles/chapters.

Recommended viewing: Armadillo and Restrepo


First opportunity for an exam
Thursday 24 October 2014, 9.00-12.00 hrs in the USC

Second opportunity for an exam
Thursday 9 January 2014, 13.00-16.00 hrs in 1A20

You can register for an exam or retake through USIS until 10 days before the exam or retake.


Wednesday 2 October, 9.00-11.00 hrs in 0A28 and 11.00-13.00 hrs in SB11
Thursday 5 September until 17 October, 11.00-13.00 hrs in SA41 (no class on 3 October)

Please register in uSis for this class before 30 August 2013.