Dissertation Project: Innovation and Inclusion in the Armed Forces

1942, War Manpower Commission poster of woman fitting a shell case

Military innovations carry the prospect of enhanced military power, but only if they can be successfully integrated into the military organization. Often, innovative technological and tactical changes are met with resistance. When do militaries integrate new innovations successfully, and when do they struggle to do so? I argue that we cannot fully answer this question without considering the challenges that masculine hierarchies often pose to the integration of innovations. How do militaries respond to these challenges? The theory I propose provides answers to these questions.

Like all large organizations, militaries require understood hierarchies that encourage individuals to behave in ways that advance the organization’s interests. Such hierarchies reinforce a dichotomous and essentialist understanding of gender. However, broad changes in the conduct of warfare can disrupt or reinforce masculine hierarchies within military organization. Military innovations that require the strength and bravery of warriors are seen as positively associated with manliness and masculinity. Alternatively, innovations can also devalue the importance of physical strength and bravery, blurring existing distinctions between sex-specific roles. In military organizations, where culture and promotion pathways reinforce and reward willingness to fight and risk one’s life, innovations that minimize exposure to danger and reduce the importance of physical strength can pose gendered challenges. If a military has invested organizational and financial resources towards the adoption of novel technologies and/or tactics, such challenges are significant. As a result, military organizations seek to address the gendered challenges of military innovation in a variety of ways.

My dissertation builds on the military innovation literature as well as the literature on the gendered nature and consequences of warfare. It does so in the context of a rigorous social science framework, offering a novel, systematic, and testable theory of gender and military innovation, with important policy implications.