Modelling Social Structures in the Regular Combat Arms Units of the British Army (2002)

Research Paper Title

Social Structures in the Regular Combat Arms Units of the British Army: A Model.

Abstract

An original model is presented for describing, analysing, and predicting soldiers’ behaviour in current regular combat arms units in the British Army. It was derived, using social anthropological techniques, during participant observation by a serving British Army officer, and provides more coherent insights than other models of unit life. Its central principle, created for this study, is a plurality of ‘social structures’. These ‘social structures’ are separate bodies of ideas, rules and conventions of behaviour which inform groups of people or individuals how to organise and conduct themselves vis-à-vis each other. One ‘social structure’ operates at any single moment, according to context. Such an approach has not previously been applied to British Soldiers.

The model’s top level (low resolution), comprises:

  • The formal command structure, consisting in the unit organisation, the apparatus of rank and discipline, and the framework of official accountability;
  • The informal structure, comprising the conventions of behaviour in the absence of formal constraints;
  • The functional structure, concerning ‘soldierly’ activity, attitudes, and expectations; and
  • The loyalty/identity structure, encompassing the conventions involved in embracing and expressing membership of the formal hierarchy of groups within and above the unit.

Lower levels provide higher resolution, including a typology of informal relationships which encompasses different degrees of closeness and differences or equality in rank.

The model’s rigour is established by testing its sensitivity at high resolution to the different conditions of life in historical British armies. The top level, however, and the typology of informal relationships, are found potentially to provide a unifying framework for historical analysis of unit life in the British Army throughout its history.

The model’s ability to illuminate current issues in the Army is demonstrated by its application to leadership training for officer cadets and the integration of women into regular combat arms units.

Read the full research: Social Structures in the Regular Combat Arms Units of the British Army – A Model (Kirke, 2002).

Reference

Kirke, C.M. (2002) Social Structures in the Regular Combat Arms Units of the British Army: A Model. PhD Thesis. Cranfield University.

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