Masculinities and the Decline of Traditional Warfare

Bachelor Thesis, 2015

23 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. State of research: A different approach

3. ‘Men’s Studies’ and the critique of masculinity
3.1. Connell’s theoretical framework
3.2. Axes of Analysis
3.3. Different Masculinities
3.4. Expansions
3.5. Methodical clarifications.

4. Technological development in the military
4.1. The emergence of drones

5. Interpretations of militarized masculinity
5.1. Risk in the face of danger - The aviator
5.2. Responsible and resourceful - The drone pilot
5.3. Comparison

6. Conclusions

1. Introduction

During times of war, one could argue, there has existed a specific hegemonic masculinity to be treasured before all else. Military forces relied on the competitive risk-taking pilot of a fighter jet or the brave soldier for inspiration. Traditional warfare is to a certain degree built on the intertwined co-existence of what is commonly perceived as alpha-male behavior and the will as well as capacity to inflict harm to enemy targets: It is the responsible, brave and individually capable soldier, who triumphs on the battlefield as an inspiring example to others - or at least one is easily led to believe such things watching movies or reading of stories from primarily male soldiers.

To prevent falling into the essentialist trap by perceiving this connection as an inherent attribute of maleness we should turn to Gender Studies, which offer insights to understand this relationship as a socially constructed phenomenon. Raewyn Connell conducted research in this area, which led to a categorization of different masculinities clarifying that there are not only repressive structures limiting women but also between men: Hegemonic, complicit, marginalized and subordinated masculinities translate into different behavior and an intra-gender hierarchy between men.

This differentiation offers a theoretical approach, which can be used in the field of peace and conflict studies following the observation that a hegemonic masculinity's traditional traits and behavior patterns seem to be closely connected to attributes especially valued in military service as described above1.

In the following bachelor thesis I want to examine the impact of the deployment of drones on the interpretation of maleness, configuration of Gender structures and hierarchy between different masculinities within the US military. I argue that while there has always been technological advance altering how wars are fought, the introduction of drones has brought another quality to this development. It allowed the total removal of the executing soldier from the operating site and thereby erased any imminent danger to the pilot completely.

With the ascent of these technological advanced methods to fight wars traditional warfare is as much in the decline as the need for heroic fighter jet pilots is. More and more missions are carried out by remotely controlled drones2 that are better served by a precise, calculating computer than by venturesome and sometimes reckless soldiers.

The work of Frank J. Barrett, which initially piqued my interest for the topic, identified jet fighter pilots as one of the most important examples of a militarized masculinity (Barrett 1996: 136). Their work is mentally and physically challenging, they have to make decisions within seconds that cannot only endanger the mission at hand but also their very own lives. Soldiers often recur to that example to explain why the necessities of military work favor ‘real men’ over women or ‘mere boys’ (Barrett 1996: 138). Furthermore it shows how Patriarchy works according to Connell. As long as there are a large number of complicit men, who emphasize on certain traits as well as arguing in favor of those traits’ legitimacy for being hegemonic, the number of men indeed inhabiting these attributes can be very small (Connell 1995-2005: 67-71). They mainly serve as symbols of masculinity that can be used as a reference; albeit in this case one that is about to be obsolete.

Considering the above, I expect the removal of pilots from the battlefield to have a potential impact that exceeds the directly involved soldiers by far, as they formerly symbolized a hegemonic masculinity within military structures. It is my hope that the elaboration on the expected shifting dynamics between different masculinities helps to better understand and ultimately dismantle the patriarchal system of the military.

As outlined above I would like to conduct research to further clarify and link the decline of traditional warfare with a shift in the intra-gender matrix of different masculinities utilizing Connell's categorization and various theoretical clarifications that have been made on the field of Men Studies leading to the following question:

How does the employment of Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) in the military have an impact on (hegemonic) masculinity?

2. State of research: A different approach

Michael Salter provided an analysis of the use of drones in the police forces. His conclusion differs greatly from what I am looking into as he chose not to include a sociological perspective on Gender structures in his work and instead focuses on a psychological approach. He emphasizes on virtues, which are primarily coded as masculine, such as control and supremacy inherently symbolized by drones or more specifically UAVs. He considers a possible fetishization of these objects as tokens of power, which leads to an assumption that is very much in contrast to my earlier thoughts. Within this context he analyses an expansion of militarized masculinities in the police forces, arguing that drones are merely shifting the emphasis to dominance instead of on the battle itself, which Salter understands as only the means for reaching said dominance (Salter: 2013). While he certainly provides valuable insights into the police forces I do not believe his work is easily transferred to the military. The need for further differentiation between men, especially when observing structures within the army, runs contrary to Salter’s more essentialist understanding of masculinity that seems to be relying solely on the pursuit of dominance. I suggest including Connell’s theoretical framework instead, which allows observing possible shifts in the use of certain rationales more clearly and understanding them as alterations within the intra-gender matrix. A frequently found critique of Connell’s system of different masculinities is the transformative nature of the theory possibly leading to an empty shell rather than a helpful tool for analyzing Gender structures.3 To circumvent this specific problem I mean to pay special attention to personal agenda and rationales.

To be able to give an answer to my research question requires a comparison between pilots of classical jet fighters and their counterparts using remotely controlled drones instead.

This leads me to favor a Qualitative Content Analysis of various sources consisting of original statements of soldiers from both perspectives as well as citing papers that already used comparable methods to examine masculinity within the military. Being able to take into account the experiences of soldiers and to analyze how the technological development challenged their position within the military’s power structure might greatly help to find an answer for my research question and clarify the link between the use of drones and genderstructured hierarchies.

3. ‘Men’s Studies’ and the critique of masculinity

In the early 1980s,4 a body of scientific work emerged, which laid the groundwork for a critical theory of masculinity (Meuser 1998: 89). Branded with the label ‘men’s studies’, these papers were accompanied by controversial debates about the legitimacy of male reflection on masculinity, their place in the feminist discourse and its preoccupation with concepts of Patriarchy (Meuser 1998: 77, 90). While classical theories of Patriarchy, which view male dominance as the fundamental structure of female oppression, focus on the male subject as situated in a trans-historic, structural position of power, gender- based concepts stress the contingency of female and male subjectivities and aim to break up monolithic perceptions of masculinity and femininity (Meuser 1998: 80, 82).

Reflections on masculinity in the 1980s stem from both sides of the debate: The British sociologist Jeff Hearn conceptualizes Patriarchy and capitalism as interweaved structures of oppression (Hearn 1987: 121). He identifies central institutions, which (re)produce male supremacy, but stresses that while their main trait is the oppression of women, they also oppress and harm their own agents: men. In line with theories of Patriarchy, his concept displays a deterministic approach in its primacy of structure over agency, inscribing the inescapable role of the oppressor into every male subject (Meuser 1998: 96). Concurrently, the Australian sociologist R.W. Connell developed an analysis of multiple masculinities, with the goal to be able to strengthen subjective agency over structure.

3.1. Connell’s theoretical framework

In her book Masculinities, first released in 1995, R.W. Connell examines the characteristics and internal dynamics of maleness and sketches out a theoretical framework for further research, supported by numerous life-history analyses. In her theoretic approach, she aims to retain subjective agency in the face of concurrent conceptions of Gender at the time. She distances herself from classical socio-biological approaches towards Gender, as well as role- theory, since they rely on biological determinism and therefore fail to grasp power-relations and subsequently cannot explain dynamics of change (Demetriou 2001: 338). Simultaneously, she attempts to avoid the structuralist arguments of theories of Patriarchy mentioned above, which lead towards a sociological determinism disallowing individual agency and reducing the body to a passive surface, completely inscribed by social processes (Connell 1995-2005: 50). When looking at maleness, Connell therefore attempts to stress both the historicity and relationality of masculinity, while still retaining the importance of subjective agency. Her definition discards essentialist5, positivist6 and normative7 conceptions of masculinity and opts instead for a more semiotic definition8 that focuses on practice and performance as key to the construction of masculinity (Connell 1995-2005: 67-71).

‘…Masculinities are configurations of practices structured by Gender relations. They are inherently historical; and their making and remaking is a political process affecting the balance of interest in society and the direction of social change.’ (Connell 1995-2005: 44)


1 According to the official homepage of the US Army a soldier’s core values are ‘Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage’, while the Soldier’s Creed among others states: ‘I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.’ (Lewis 2015)

2 While in 2004 there was one U.S. drone strike in Pakistan by the year 2010 the American military was already executing 117 (although there has been a decline in recent years). Although I could not draw on complete data, it seems safe to assume that drone strikes are becoming more common (Roggio 2015).

3 There has been an on-going debate about the usefulness of Connell’s concept and she herself has acknowledged some points of the criticism, while objecting to the notion that the approach would reify power relations through an essentialist view. Instead she suggested some improvements, which should be kept in mind, when working with the concept of hegemonic masculinity: [A] more complex model of Gender hierarchy, emphasizing the agency of women; explicit recognition of the geography of masculinities, emphasizing the interplay among local, regional, and global levels; a more specific treatment of embodiment in contexts of privilege and power; and a stronger emphasis on the dynamics of hegemonic masculinity, recognizing internal contradictions and the possibilities of movement toward Gender democracy (Connell/Messerschmidt 2005).

4 Parts of the theoretical derivations in this paragraph were originally developed as part of a term paper, which was submitted to Dr. Henry Myrttinen in the PS 15161 during the summer semester 2012 at the ‘Freie Universität Berlin’: Alexander Harder and Niklas Kuck: Die Even Harder - Military Masculinities and their Impact on Military Forces.

5 Masculinity is defined by a single trait

6 Masculinity is how men are

7 Masculinity is how men should be

8 Masculinity is defined through a system of symbolic difference

Excerpt out of 23 pages


Masculinities and the Decline of Traditional Warfare
Free University of Berlin  (Otto-Suhr-Institut für Politikwissenschaft)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Masculinities, Warfare, Drones, Hegemonic Masculinity, Connell, Peace and Conflict Studies, Gender Studies
Quote paper
Bachelor of Arts Niklas Kuck (Author), 2015, Masculinities and the Decline of Traditional Warfare, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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