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Title: Inscribing Identities on Uniformed Bodies
Authors: Winfield, Taylor Paige
Advisors: Wuthnow, Robert
Contributors: Sociology Department
Keywords: Embodiment
Total Institutions
U.S. Army
Subjects: Sociology
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Drawing on three years of immersive ethnography and over 100 interviews, "Inscribing Identities on Uniformed Bodies" examines the experience of incoming cadet candidates at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School. I investigate how authorities (re)socialize candidates into future officers, and how candidates, whose civilian identities are constrained by a regimented institutional context, refashion self-definitions and embody resistance. I focus on how racial/ethnic, gender, class, sexual, and religious self-definitions shape experiences. The dissertation presents (re)socialization in three spheres: the cultivation of the Military Body (part 1), the Officer Mind (part 2), and the Warrior Spirit (part 3). Across spheres, I argue that the military transforms civilians into soldiers by taking near-total control over recruits’ embodiments. When authorities restrict individuals’ bodily habits and force them to adopt new ones, individuals also become restricted in the ways they can express their subjectivities to others, and importantly, themselves. Control over bodies and discourse is what cultivates the soldier, officer, and warrior identities, inculcates discipline, and ultimately develops the willingness to kill and die for the nation. These spheres also reveal how inequalities are reproduced in the military despite its pressing aim of imposing uniformity and the life-or-death consequences of failing to appoint the most competent leaders. Whiteness, maleness, Christianity, upper/middle-class logics, and heterosexuality are embedded within the Army’s standards and procedures. The structure of the military and its interdependent tasks further make it a Petri dish for status processes. Whether candidates resist or comply with military ‘ideals,’ the total nature of the institution and candidates’ dependence on the group make them highly sensitive to how others evaluate them—which is a powerful motivating force to change themselves or leave the institution. In these ways, "Inscribing Identities" makes theoretical contributions to various fields of inquiry, especially institutional and cultural sociology, and studies of inequality. It shows how institutions juxtapose standardization with the diversity individuals carry with them into the setting, and how gatekeeping organizations systematically reproduce larger social inequalities. The dissertation reveals how social context alters collective understandings of self and presents the human body as a canvas upon which social processes are inscribed, transformed, and maintained.
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Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Sociology

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