The Struggle over Military Identity
-A Multi-Sited Ethnography on Gender, Fitness and “The Right Attitudes”
in the Military Profession/Field
Author: Rones, Nina , firstname.lastname@example.org
Department: Defence Institute
University: Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Norway
Supervisor: Kari Fasting
Year of completion: 2015
Language of dissertation: English
, Physical Fitness
Areas of Research:
Armed Forces and Conflict Resolution
, Body in the Social Sciences
, Professional Groups
As a result of dramatic changes in the arrangement and missions of the Norwegian Armed
Forces, and consequently in competence, gender and identity politics, traditional thinking on
what are considered to be valuable persons is being challenged. Yet, what is challenged by some may be guarded by others. As such, a social struggle over who should be allowed in the military profession has been observed. This dissertation investigates what is at stake in the struggles over who can take part in the military profession/field.
Theoretically, the study is based on Pierre Bourdieu’s conceptual framework supplemented
with Norbert Elias’ figurational perspective, as well as feminists’ development of Bourdieu’s
theories. Data was gathered through a multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork consisting of participant observation, interviews and collections of written material. Written material was used to provide insight into the macro-level. Social interactions at local military sites (micro-level) were investigated through 72 days of participant observation spread over 12 months including 65 interviews. 32 interviews were with women, 33 with men.
Two research questions were developed to limit the content of the micro-level investigation:
1. What is required from men and women respectively to do an officer
2. How do men and women with different forms of capital respond to
different formal and informal requirements in the military field?
The result shows that officer candidates are encouraged to become normative role models
with “the right attitudes” for their subordinates to imitate. Doing the job as a normative role
model appropriately is dependent on the ability to embody power resources and obey
regulation impositions at the same time. Accordingly, the study supports Belkin’s (2012)
claim that military masculinity is structured by contradiction, and that the military compels
soldiers/officers to embody masculinity and femininity at the same time. This claim is based
on an understanding, developed from Bourdieu (1998) and Skeggs (2004), where masculinity
is seen as a belief system that comes with impositions of accumulating power resources and
striving for dominance, victory, honor and recognition, through which one is classified as
masculine. Femininity is understood as a form of regulation that is based on morals and
shame, and used to establish control over women and troops through an emphasis on
appropriate culture, attitudes and style.
The contradictory requirements that apply to the officers are reflected in the culture being
referred to as 1) a performance culture in which the “power of example” is used as a
pedagogical method to encourage winning instinct and accumulation of power resources, such
as physical fitness, and 2) a feedback culture in which buddy evaluations and buddy rankings
are actively used as a pedagogical method to socialize the officer candidates into the norms
accepted in the social fellowship. The requirement to embody power resources and become a
winner and a leader results in internal competition and struggles for positions within the local
hierarchy. Considering the requirement to obey regulation impositions, the field was
characterized by a voluntary submission and adaption to the requirements, as well as a
struggle to maintain (reproduce) the field’s traditional criteria for valuation, in particular
It is concluded that systems of classification constitute a stake in the struggles that oppose
individuals in the social interactions that take place in the field. It is argued that being
classified as soldier/officer vs. murderer, civilized vs. uncivilized, appropriate vs.
inappropriate, constitutes a stake in the struggle over soldiers’ culture, attitudes and style.
Moreover, it is shown that women, in particular small-sized women who might join the
military to disprove the stereotype of being “cute and petite”, jeopardize the belief system on
which the military’s capacity for legitimating personal claims to authority and a powerful and
masculine identity is based. Women, in particular the “cute and petite”, enter the military field
with bodies that stand in direct contrast to skills and qualities associated with military
requirements, and as a consequence they put the classification of the military profession as
masculine, tough and physically demanding at stake.