When a people loses its military spirit, a career in the military stops being valued, and military personnel sink to the lowest rank of public servants. They receive little esteem and are no longer understood.
1 The positive image enjoyed by the armed forces among the population as a whole, the decline of antimilitarism, and the rise of new threats as a result of terrorism are all elements likely to afford the military establishment today an assurance of its social importance and to give its personnel a strong sense of being held in esteem. However, this favorable context in no way excludes the polymorphous and diffuse expression of feelings evidencing a lack of recognition felt by the armed forces as a whole towards their role and specific missions, encouraging them to wonder about the real place they occupy in society, a fortiori in the context of post-professionalization and its impact on the army–nation relationship . With the impression of being misunderstood, the persistent prejudice of a folkloric caricature, the feeling of being marginalized and out of step with the rest of the population and developments in society, or the feeling of not being appreciated and rewarded in line with the demands of their role, there are indeed numerous reasons that reinforce their persistent conviction of a global lack of interest. Their regular presence at exhibitions, fairs, and other media events as well as the open days that are increasingly held by regiments are all illustrations of attempts to remedy this, which they also seek to do through the considerable investment they now make in activities aimed at young people and in the various educational experiences they offer as alternatives to the traditional school curriculum. Indeed, alongside measures taken in this respect (“Second chance defense,” operation “105 permits,” and the Établissement Public d'Insertion de la Défense (Public establishment for insertion into defense, hereafter EPIDE ), the agreements signed by the Ministry of Defense with the Ministry of National Education, the regional councils, and schemes such as the creation of defense correspondents in every secondary school all bear witness to a strategic repositioning of the institution in the realm of citizenship, social integration, and integration with the world of work to compensate for the risk of losing everyday visibility and immediate social usefulness, caused by the suspension of national service.
2 As for the personnel, nobody who has visited a military barracks can have failed to notice how often this same feeling comes up in daily conversation like a widely shared leitmotiv that is known to all and perfectly conveyed by the various local means of expression (such as group presidents) and instances of consultation and social dialogue at the level of each army and ministry (CFM, CSFM ).
We suffer a lack of consideration from the population and the political power, which no longer knows us.
4 Very frequently, reports and studies also echo the idea that these expectations of consideration, when they are deemed to be unsatisfied or badly recompensed, represent a serious issue that can generate a powerful feeling of discontent, possibly causing a serious lack of commitment or even misconduct in such a way as to prejudice recruitment objectives and personnel loyalty, even leading to defection (for example, the internal studies “Vie dans l’armée de terre” (Life in the land army), the annual reports on morale, or the work of the Haut Comité d’évaluation de la condition militaire (High-Level Committee on the evaluation of the military condition) in 2007 ). Within the context of the crisis and the police demonstrations of 2001 (Samson and Fontaine 2005) and the grumbling that followed in the regiments because of overwork, this same feeling of a lack of interest was also expressed in the personal dramatization that flourished in the blogs of military personnel (Chatrenet 2007), in the positioning and criticism by anonymous general officers (for example the “Surcouf group”), or else in:
The intense demand for relative autonomy, in the way military personnel are allowed to think, speak, or act […] as they aspire, without clearly formulating this thought, to the recognition that a soldier has a different place.
6 So, it is a question of recognition. Belonging to an institution with strong hierarchical formality, demanding discipline, obedience, and respect for orders, the military—although motivated by group values (cohesion, community spirit, and comradeship in arms) and disinterest (spirit of sacrifice, availability, and loyalty)—appears therefore still not to escape this new individualist playing field which this notion tries today to contain. Several pieces of sociological, historical, and philosophical research have related to this idea recently, following in the wake of A. Honneth (2000) but also in a tradition of thought that is in fact very old, and that involves breaking the strong link that exists for an individual between the recognition he is allowed and the construction of his identity. Recognition thus seems to become part of the constituent elements and conditions of existence and enjoyment that are imperative to contemporary identity in the name of the principle “of equal worth” on which modern societies are based. Much more than a question of respect or a sign of politeness, this quest for recognition therefore presents itself as a need of imperative satisfaction and that in fact becomes, for these societies, a “vital human need” (Taylor 2009, 42).
7 Despite the criticisms one might make to this (Fraser 2005), such a sociological proposition presents a certain heuristic interest. The inter-subjective concept of identity that underpins it is firstly such that it avoids the lack of realism and formalism of the Habermassian paradigm of discussion, which correlates successful communication, and therefore social harmony, with the observance of rules of language. It takes greater account of the moral dimension of combat by focusing more on the experience of the subjects, their sensitivity, and the feelings experienced (for example, of injustice), thus giving the interaction a very empirical content. At the same time, this approach invites us to give up the myth of a founding subjectivity, an interiority that is immediately autonomous and assured of its strength and moral quality, to the benefit of an analysis of the conditions of social life on which it depends in reality,
Because subjects cannot achieve a practical relationship with themselves unless they learn to understand themselves from the normative perspective of their partners in interaction, who make on them a certain number of social demands.
9 Sociologies of recognition also have the darker corollary of attacking the progressive optimism of triumphant individualism. The constructivist approach in fact obliges us to abandon the idea of an identity, defined as an acquired fact and an accomplished reality that the individual owns, and instead attributes him with the basic constitutional characteristics of incompleteness and fragility. In this Meadian framework, the formation of identity is only acquired and held in a dialogical manner through the inter-personal relations that the individual has with his various “significant others.” His effective recognition and positive relationship with himself thus depend on the variable and never definite judgments that they express in his respect and that therefore make him very vulnerable as they are can, like a sort of certification, confirm, refuse, or deny all or part of his claims to identity. The need for recognition thus leads to an anxious individualism in which each person, as if on a constant trial, is constrained to acquire value in his own eyes by committing to socializing actions that may or may not bring him self-esteem and social integration. Eventually, the issue comes down to an arbitrary judgment and a balance between the imperative of the realization of the self, which is typical of the “conversion of modern culture to subjectivism” (Taylor 2009, 45) and the collective counterbalance of social objectives.
10 “Equal worth” consists in recognizing rights and awarding human and material means, financial compensation, or reparation, and the symbolic signs that often appear to guarantee a real and authentic recognition. In these conditions, what is the place, on the one hand, of recognition of the military establishment and its specific nature as a social group? And, on the other hand, what recognition can it offer its personnel? This is directly connected to what is understood by “military status” which becomes, according to the very terms of the 2005 report on morale, a “general preoccupation,” in which “the feeling of recognition affects not only motivation but also the social positioning of the military” (Thiébault 2007) and sends us back to the three pillar structure of satisfaction with oneself: having (life circumstances), being (exercise of a profession), and appearing (internal and external perceptions). But, since, “recognition, being everywhere […], is demonstrated in infinite ways to indicate a whole set of situations experienced as unjust” (Dubet 2007, 18–21), it seems to us better, rather than listing once again the various well-known reasons mentioned by the military (relating to the material conditions of life and work on the one hand and relations between people on the other), to try to set them within a general explanatory framework and to identify the structural foundations of this vague feeling of lack of consideration by distinguishing between the individual and collective levels at which it is experienced. In this purely programmatic work, which will be carried out through the secondary analysis of various pieces of empirical research, the aim, at the individual level, will be to bring out its historical and contextual reasons and origins, bearing in mind what may be called for convenience “military society” (Gresle 2003) and its transformations; at the collective level, it will be about understanding—starting from three major representative sub-populations—the production and recognition of identities as accounted for in military values, organizational reality, and the operational imperatives of the institution.
Recognition of the Military Establishment and Social Transformations
11 The military establishment can only act in a meaningful way with legitimate objectives if it is seen to have the support of a sovereign socio-political community and the values it represents. The lack of regard felt today by military personnel as a social group must be related to this greater social group and interpreted as a profoundly structural fact resulting from a long and multiform process of change in its values. To put in perspective the historical evolution of the consideration of the armed forces in general, the three key themes of sociological theories of recognition—identity, vulnerability, and invisibility—have been taken as principal starting points for analysis.
The Social Crisis in Military Identity: from Honor to Equal Worth
12 Alongside the support it finds in emotional and legal relationships, mutual recognition also presupposes, “the existence of a social organization whose common aims unite individuals in a community of values” (Honneth 2000, 149) and a shared horizon that establishes relationships of social esteem from the respective contributions of individuals or groups of individuals to achieve aims and values pursued by the community. In the advent of modern society, if we follow Tocqueville’s reasoning, resides the origin of a decisive regime change in this social recognition, which shifted from the aristocratic foundation on which it had been based until then—based on the value of honor—towards an ideal of “equal worth” (Schnapper 1994), with a consequent questioning of the vertical distribution of social tasks according to a pre-established order of worth, in favor of a less stratified, less fixed, and more democratic idea of recognition (Ansart 1998). The latter became possible with the weakening of hierarchical structures and the reduction in the exclusiveness of groups, as society increasingly opened up to a plurality of values according to a mode of horizontal competition that gives the right to all, by free access to the regard of others, to public esteem, and to the prestige obtained from authentic personal qualities and capacities (therefore not socially assigned) (Taylor 1992; Walzer 1997).
13 In relation to our concerns here, this decline of honor has a considerable impact on the military, as it has affected all of the recognition that was directly attributed to them as bearers of value in the tripartite organization of society at that time, associated with an order—that of combatants—considered as hierarchically “pre-eminent, becoming a nobility and tending towards an elite” (Corvisier 1995, 254). At a time when, until the eighteenth century, “the state was in fact nothing but a military state” (Meyer 1983, 283) with little distinction made between the civilian world and the world of arms, one must remember that the military class was limited to officers and that officers were all aristocrats who still felt they were members of the nobility and never career soldiers (Léonard 1958; Corvisier 1995). In this context where “arms constituted the first social value” (Corvisier 1985, 19), socio-historical knowledge of the time forces us to recognize the perfect and unanimously accepted correspondence between the military and social elites, which was sealed by their monopolistic hold on honor. The legitimacy of their position carried with it a defense of the ethos it supported in terms of disinterest and the spirit of sacrifice.
14 “The nature of honor being to demand preferences and distinctions” (Montesquieu 1979 , 149), the vocation to arms consisted in maintaining and preserving, at any cost, and in the name of heroic conduct (such as at the battle of Agincourt), innate and hereditary virtues that set those who possessed them in a class apart, by means of particular treatment (serving in command posts or special corps) or measures clearly favoring lineage. Indeed, just before the Revolution, in a society still ruled by order but under the influence of the Enlightenment, when the new scale of values based on equality, social mobility, and work began to challenge the legitimacy of the military-aristocratic hierarchy and the natural social recognition that was reaching its peak—already attacked in the past for its venality—, the social question became so prominent that it caused a violent “reaction in the nobility.” Faced with the massive entry of the bourgeoisie and individuals of lowly birth or commoners, the response of the nobility, a fortiori to make people forget the humiliating defeat of Rossbach, was also shown in their active participation in the administrative reform of the armies, which aimed, until the Directory, at re-establishing full recognition of their place in the nation and eclipsing the other categories by means of a whole series of conservative measures and arrangements: organizational (creation of the military academy for the sons of the highest nobility), administrative (reserved posts and promotion conditional on title), social (selective recruitment), and moral (fighting dissidents and denouncing venality), including the famous “Ségur ordinance” (1781) which required three degrees of nobility to become an officer (Chagniot 1987 and Corvisier 1985).
15 Contrary to the recognition that had been its initial aim, the result was a “crisis in morale” in the military world, as the model of the army that was projected was unrelated to the hierarchy that was then prevalent in the rest of the nation and caused a “cascade of disdain” for the antagonisms that it intensified (Corvisier 1985). But the pursuit of widening the social recruitment of officers entailed the progressive “obsolescence of the concept of honor” (Berger 1983) in favor of “equal worth,” which opened up values to different modes of self-realization, leading each person to create a congruence between their own abilities and the aims defined by society, and brought the armed forces closer to other groups by a more democratic means of access that combined the criteria of birth, money, talent, merit, and luck.
All these factors controlled advancement while offering great possibilities of social promotion through the army.
17 The egalitarian legalism that it then followed in the spirit of the time and its technical and administrative needs (fulfilled by civilians, known as “robins”) was also seen in the nineteenth century in the interchangeable nature of operational functions and the increasing uniformity of conduct, characters, and appearances, and, later, in the reconciliation of the conditions and mentalities caused by large-scale wars. Successive laws on conscription and universal national service only served to encourage, from 1815 to 1870, the ebb tide of nobles (but also of the bourgeoisie) from the profession of the military whose prestige, no longer benefiting from the support of the immediate esteem they had used to “enjoy without leaving home” (Tocqueville 1986 , 610), then became extremely dependent upon society and public opinion. Girardet has traced the way the popularity of the armed forces oscillated: already weakened in the eighteenth century for its human and financial cost, it shrank drastically for reasons such as the incompetence, idleness, uselessness, or dissolute and uncivilized morals attributed to the troops (Girardet 1953).
18 With “this symbolic military system, which loses its function of justifying social status” (Schweisguth 1978, 388) linked to honor, lack of recognition becomes established as a fact, a structural condition of democratic armed forces which are “often anxious, complaining, and dissatisfied with their lot” (Tocqueville 1986 , 612) and which only events and circumstances of history—desire for revenge, war, nationalist fervor, and the nation gathering behind charismatic or heroic personalities—may occasionally curb.
19 The idea of vulnerability is a central category in theories of recognition, which, by indexing the construction of individual identity to relations with others, makes it that much weaker, as it will only really exist after a test of validity that may or may not deliver the desired esteem (Renault 2000). Habitually applied to individuals or groups of individuals in order to limit the forms their precarious condition takes, this idea will here be applied to the army as a whole, understood as an institution with a firm grip on the processes affecting its solidity and consistency and therefore making its recognition more uncertain.
20 Evident in the growing permeability of the army to alien forms of regulation and integration but also in the aristocratic leaps in the distinction conveyed by uniforms (Letonturier 2010) and decorations (Boniface 2009), this form of vulnerability is associated with the development of ideas and approaches that, as a corollary to the new ethos emerging with the revocation of honor, contribute to undermining the historical foundations of the military establishment. These ideas, which some people will call “anti-militarist” (Léonard 1958), follow a course that begins with a criticism of the immoral and warlike aims of the institution (in Pascal, La Bruyère, or Fénelon) and ends by questioning its very existence. The end result, as demonstrated by Léonard (1958), is to denounce the “noble” reasons that justify it—glory, honor, power, and vanity—outside of any real necessity, to broaden and become radical with Voltaire whose disdain for the military was well known and to join Diderot in the history of the moral failure of an institution that the armed nation could easily replace.
21 The love of peace that this gave rise to later found in the continuation of the securitarian individualism of Hobbes and the liberals’ apologia for “doux-commerce,” new arguments that annulled the famous pro patria mori or at least prevented it from fully exercising the virtuous effects of its moral resilience on imagined motivations, from Montesquieu to Benjamin Constant, rendering it less sacrificial than selfish, more commercial than patriotic (Desmons 2001). Rousseau’s attempt to turn the military ethos into an emotional experience and a civic duty, as in antiquity, came up, as E. Desmons explains, against the idea that had taken root amongst the Moderns that war was by nature archaic, the vestige of a world that was ethically violent and economically closed. So Saint Simon who, with the optimistic enthusiasm that inspired him to enter industrial civilization, saw in the army a pointless residual form and stripped it of any of the consideration that might previously have been accorded to it for its essential social functions. This severe judgment was also shared by Durkheim but broadened to the issue of the conditions of existence and the compatibility of such an institution with the current individualistic values that constrain the soldier to find, “the principle for his behavior outside of himself [in a] massive and compact group […] that best recalls the structure of inferior societies,” (Durkheim 1986 , 260 and 254).
22 The pacifist and global promises of capitalism, which leave more room for maneuver to a captain of industry than to the colonel of a regiment, nevertheless do not lead us to forget the reality of threats and the imperative for defense that endow the institution with a certain legitimacy, while leaving it in reality, as Constant argued in his Principes politiques, in an organizational impasse as to the general principles governing the way in which it is constructed (Constant 1997 ). Between career army and citizen army, according to Hippler, it was with a mixed formula that Servan tried to overcome this “theoretical double bind” which responded in an optimal way to the necessary recognition and visibility of the army and its personnel by a system of compensatory social rights and/or which were aligned with the civilian world and the imperative preservation of a way of life suitable for the military condition and separate from others (Hippler 2006).
23 So, beyond war critics who destabilize the institution in its primary raison d'être, its vulnerability also stems from that dilemma that is quickly perceived and temporarily solved by the choice of universal national service, a choice that, after much resistance, as shown by the vast number of replacements, was only to be imposed under the short-term cover of the spirit of revenge post-1870 and with the active support of the nationalist dialogue and republican ideology. From then on, what recognition could rebound onto an institution when only recourse to the law, which was auxiliary to the natural feeling of duty, was up to the task of creating, yet without succeeding, an internalized moral content and the obligation of participating in it? Indeed, mass wars were to provide the “Bardamu syndrome” (Desmons 2001) with a favorable backdrop against which it could be challenged while waiting for mentalities and techniques to evolve and for the geopolitical order to lead, in the second half of the twentieth century, to the suspension of military service, although this was delayed more for political than for military reasons (Porteret 2005).
24 In summary, the cumulative effect of all these new critiques and values that were shared by moralists, philosophers of the Enlightenment, and early sociologists as well as the polemics around conscription was to weaken the army by attacking the two pillars that normally support the definition of an institution. Indeed, if we agree that an institution is an instrument for the transformation and interpretation of universal standards and values in specific roles and statuses, which themselves generate specific individualities (Dubet 2002), we must then state that the problem of social recognition of the armed forces lies in the loss of the legitimacy and universality of the values on which they were historically based, by making the process of socializing individual involvement, in the guise of solid and lasting vocational commitment, more difficult and uncertain. The challenge is even greater in a cultural context marked by a constant increase in western sensitivities in respect of physical violence and death (unless it is aesthetic, virtual, or relating to a game) with a correlating greater attachment to life, to the point that a taste for fighting has completely disappeared from the initial motivation of young soldiers today (Léger 2004).
25 But to this external context, which does not favor giving recognition to the military establishment, and which is reinforced by the negative force of certain events (such as decolonization which plunged it into a feeling of isolation and of being out of step with the rest of the nation), is also added, internally, another indicator of the failure of this recognition. In fact, the second half of the twentieth century saw the concept of the military condition rapidly grow in power (later widened to include the idea of personnel conditions), aiming to “integrate all the factors contributing to personal and professional development and to give the military a place in society corresponding to its commitment to the service of the state.” Taking into account the various aspects of their existence (accommodation, food, health, social activity, family, retraining for a new career, etc.) and recovering payments and bonuses resulting from the different plans implemented in this area will not be enough to "re-establish a positive perception of the military condition” to counteract “the feeling of an increasingly obvious downgrading” (Thiébault 2007, 14 and 16) at the heart of the military establishment.
26 In Honneth’s thinking, recognition is conferred and expressed through visibility as a presence in individual or collective lives on the social scene which makes possible, in a unique way, a prior process of authorizing and authenticating their own identity value and specific plans for existence. The ethical issue comes from the automatic conversion of this social recognition into positive moral greatness, which then devolves upon the individual or group in a variable and unstable manner according to the index of measurement that provides its degree of visibility (Honneth 2006). Absence of recognition or its denial therefore means a deprivation of being in a social sense, a lack which is seen as a moral quality whose typical ideal-extreme forms are represented by the invisible figures of the lowly, the precarious, and the excluded (Le Blanc 2009).
27 The situation of the army is obviously in no way comparable to these examples, yet still experiences, as a consequence of its institutional vulnerability described above, a type of invisibility that we will call “practical” (Voirol 2009). This is linked to the fact that the recognition or otherwise of armies depends upon the social appreciation of their activities and contribution to the achievement of collective objectives, that is, a common normative setting of validation in which “the values and ethical aims are formulated that together outline the cultural concept that a society has of itself” (Honneth 2000, 148). This practical invisibility operates in two ways of which one has to do with the “special features” of the military, and the other, which is more dynamic, involves the internal changes that the professionalization of the armies has brought about deep within them. With the first, we no doubt have an inherent difficulty in recognition theories that are based on an implicit supposition relating to the status attributed to recognition in modern democratic societies. Honneth in fact constructs the demand for recognition as a resource, an immediately available support for one’s self-affirmation, by almost turning it into a right that some fail to manage to claim to the extent they would wish but that is nevertheless always accessible as an ordinary aspect of the inter-subjective regime of the production of contemporary identities.
28 Now, unless they follow the example—internally contested—of the police in 2001 (Samson and Fontaine 2005), attempts at recognition by the armed forces, which they could claim like any other social group, would not be publicly formulated in the classic way of making demands, without calling into question the very foundation and legal basis for their identity and therefore existence. The social invisibility inherent in the armed forces is in fact linked to the military state itself, whose specific character lies in a status deriving from the particular nature of the mission assigned to them, that is, preparation for and participation in battle. The loyalty to the state, duty to show reserve in the expression of ideas, and absence of the right to strike that such a mission demands, strongly limit their collective perception. At the same time, the confidentiality of operations that is always necessary for their success, the distance and geopolitical issues in theatres of war on territories with a complex national situation, and the reinforcement of the “information” function complicate a true appreciation and visibility of the services provided. Only the recent transformation of missions, now centered externally on humanitarian and peace-keeping activities, and internally on providing aid and help to populations, limits this invisibility required by the status and essential function of the armed forces, yet without changing reality and its effects, and explains their positive image today as they are increasingly found, in terms of dominant values, in the normative validation setting for social activities that confer social esteem.
29 An inevitable factor that has reduced the presence of the army in the collective consciousness and in individual career paths, is the suspension of national service, which itself introduced a second form of invisibility commensurate with professionalization whose effects add to and reinforce the changes linked at a more general level to the famous business rationalization that replaces vocation with profession. Awareness of this invisibility is not simply limited to the matter of less exposure of the army to the general public but also involves more internal reasoning. Looked at in this way, the opposing theses which have been put forward to take account of the impact of professionalization on the link between army and nation, come together as they outline the shape of a unitary setting to explain this form of invisibility and the problematic recognition that results from it.
30 Military culture is the variable upon which the so-called divergence theories are organized and, despite their differences, they all agree that it should be retained, in view of the weight and place it occupies in motivations, behaviors, and structures, as a primary and distinctive characteristic of the army, which is therefore classed as a total institution (Goffman 1968; Foucault 1975) and a coercive one (Pinto 1975; Loriga 1991). From this point of view, the loss of legitimacy caused by the suspension of national service would irreversibly stretch the link between army and nation to the point that the army would suffer an identity crisis, turning in on itself as the ethos of the nation becomes fractured and marginalized. Lack of recognition is therefore here set out as intrinsic to the military cultural identity which will give rise to inevitable social invisibility by difference only delayed by compulsory legal measures.
31 On the contrary, convergence theories (Janowitz 1960; Moskos 1987) explain this invisibility through the progressive erasing of cultural identity specific to the military in favor of introducing professional logic imported from civilian society. Bureaucratic rationalization, a command structure that is more managerial than charismatic, increased out-sourcing, management by specialization, and the development of sectional bonuses constitute the principal indicators of a process that is making the armed forces more mainstream, as also seen in behaviors that are becoming more individualist, hedonistic, careerist, and pragmatic. Like its rivals, this theory, whose excesses now call for a balance in the effects inherent in the organizational and institutional processes that simultaneously shape the army (Jakuboswki 2005), also condemns it to invisibility, but this time by similarity. Its personnel, while still in fact limited by the constraints of their situation, are assimilated to the personnel of a normal business and therefore regarded as such without however benefiting from the usual means of making demands. In these conditions, which hide their specific activities from the outside world, the possibility of publicly asserting and recognizing these in their total reality proves to be unproductive: interest will be more partial, in line with the media curiosity aroused by elite troops’ commando interventions; reactive to events, in the light of the emotion caused by deaths during external operations; and finally occasional and short-term, according to the situation, for example, when internal operations appear to be opportunities to demonstrate their social usefulness to populations.
Individual Recognition and Military Culture
32 The study of the more individual forms taken by the need or quest for recognition at the very center of this institution moves the search for its origin from the specific nature of the missions assigned towards more cultural reasoning and issues. The empirical variety presented by cultural reasoning and issues will illustrate the concrete manifestations of this recognition in relation to the triple set of issues previously stated, within three sub-populations chosen for importance of their size and their significant role in these issues: firstly, officers, whose quest for prestige allows us to reveal the mechanics and workings of recognition internally; then the young, whose recruitment, which is now imperative because of professionalization, has recently led the army to invest in a communications policy based on the promise of recognition; finally, civil defense personnel whose skills may damage recognition of the military because of the competition between their respective legitimacy in their enforced cohabitation.
Recognition Won: Cultural Diversification and Identity Struggles for Prestige among Officers
33 As Serman reminds us, officers have always expected from the particular nature of the functions they fulfill and the values they embody as worthy heirs and official repositories of military culture, a recognition of their state, “a consideration which places them at an advantage in society” (Serman 1982, 14). Therefore, rules and customs, rites and symbols which military culture provides as identity supports (Thiéblemont 1999) are for them the object of major investment which results, beyond the professed egalitarian community ideal (brothers in arms or spirit of comradeship), in a diversification of military identities and levels of visible prestige and recognition which began in the eighteenth century with the hierarchy of missions, battle orders, and salaries (Corvisier 1995). Even today, it is to better embody the specific war purpose of the military in the “combat” area that prestige is attributed to different weapons (from weapons for hand-to-hand combat to back-up and support weapons) access to which depends on level of education. It is as if, in the context of the progressive decline of the place of the officer in twentieth century French society (Boulègue 2003), recognition, which was initially based on the social value accorded to honor, was retreating, gradually moving away to fall back on internal squabbles motivated by ambition (Tocqueville 1986 ) and the search for prestige which then becomes, as these forms diversify, an issue of individual and intra-group appropriation and differentiation.
34 In fact, recognition is organized around the prestige that results from the production of hierarchical scales expressed by transparent values in distinguishing procedures used by officers between themselves, whether they are of the same grade or not, to evaluate each other and therefore to accord each other more or less esteem, using criteria such as military origins, academic excellence, weapons used, attitude, experience in the field, seniority, and the age limits of the grade. In the same way as the relationship between the military and tradition oscillates between challenge and conformity (Thiéblemont 1986), the whole situation illustrates that the formality required in exchanges by one’s grade, from the rules of conduct and precedence, is not, despite respect for the chains of order and real attachment of the personnel to the hierarchy, the immediate conveyor of a certain amount of consideration or an absolute guarantee of recognition. An evaluation of someone’s career to date and future potential, measured against a combination of these criteria, leads to reformulations and reinterpretations, upwards or downwards, and current positions on the one hand make deference to superiors conditional and nuanced, and, on the other hand, make equality between officers of the same grade theoretical, as they reintroduce a hierarchy between themselves by symbolic means and pejorative language. Excessive greetings, for example, given to a colonel with no future by a young captain who is sure to become a general because of his education and weapon, will signify disdain, while earning him increased esteem from his peers who by and large share the same sentiment, without daring to express it so openly. Similarly, at the same grade, a preference expressed, the possession of a certain object, or a situation, however insignificant, may be enough to reactivate and confirm the validity of military stereotypes, such as those that circulate between the “dolos” (former junior non-commissioned officers) and the “cyrards” (graduates of the military academy) (Coton 2008).
35 Far from being granted and assured, recognition stems, in the inter-subjective processes of construction in which it is continuously engaged, from a dynamic of conquest which implies all the more individual effort, as it is based on a system of ambivalent values. Indeed, the criteria for excellence that are fixed and validated by the institution express the structural tension that run through it more fundamentally and reveal the existing juncture between individual and institutional levels of the regime of recognition: caught between defending specific military values and a vocation as a fighting force on the one hand and the appeal and validation of “civilian” cultural and academic competence, which are essential to render its elite socially legitimate, on the other hand, the institution then constrains its officers to develop adaptive strategies. For example, an oral presentation, in front of official and officious military experts, will demand an ability to manipulate skills which are more intellectual, or even abstract, among other things, with clever allusions and oral virtuosity, and a judicious performance could be very fruitful in terms of recognition if it is successful, yet without giving the impression of being either a soldier without a broad perspective or a “society officer” (Coton 2007).
36 Negative corollaries in the gain of recognition that are fed by this multiform culture of prestige, lack of consideration, and feelings of contempt, together with the suffering and ill-feeling they cause, therefore originate in those judgments and appreciations that are taken from a retrospective and prospective knowledge of the key elements of a person’s professional biography. Deep, lasting cultural rifts within the officer corps which result from this are exacerbated, in the second part of their career, by differentiation between the “command” and “specialist” pathways which offer very different prospects to individuals (such as access or not to the command of a regiment or to the rank of general). The impression of heterogeneity is reinforced by the “real” hierarchical distances that separate them from other corps (junior and senior non-commissioned officers), themselves a prey—to a lesser extent, certainly, but nevertheless significantly—to their own logic of differentiation (Thiéblemont, Pajon, and Racaud 2004), but also, to complete this whole mosaic, by the transverse problem of the various minorities present in the armed forces, such as that of women (Sorin 2003).
Recognition Promised to Young Recruits: the Ideological and Media Construct of Vulnerability
37 When the army became fully professional this naturally led to massive recruitment supported by publicity campaigns aimed at the young, who therefore became a strategic issue in the success of professionalization.  “Become yourself”: with this slogan chosen for its latest recruitment campaign for future junior and senior non-commissioned officers, the army, by offering to support the process of self-discovery of the young and satisfy the different facets of their personality with the range of life experiences it offered, marked a new turning-point in its communication policy. Abandoning the original characterization of the profession in favor of the benefits of commitment to one’s identity, the line recently followed is creative, even if it conveys a certain progress, a new form of vulnerability, in respect of the personal recognition it promises.
38 Progress first, as this campaign confirmed the rupture that began in 2005–2006 by signifying that military commitment could in no way be reduced to the exercise of an ordinary job and that “functional value” (Pharo 2007) was not enough to achieve full recognition as a member of the military community. Indeed, compared to the slogans that simply extolled skills (“Under the helmet, a profession” or “The army, 400 professions”) which sprang up at the time of professionalization, the slogan “a profession, much more than a profession” already showed identity repositioning, and a refocused communication strategy: alongside skills were expected other types of qualities and requirements deriving from the particular personal development that constitutes the military identity. But in the list of moral and behavioral aspects of this personal development, only values to which young people are very sensitive and attached were in fact included (generosity, respect, camaraderie, team spirit, and solidarity) to the detriment of less attractive values linked to status, such as mobility and availability, and those which are functionally decisive, especially in an operational context, such as obedience and discipline.
39 Now, unlike the strong, lasting, and authentic commitment that only the latter guarantee, the “become yourself” of the latest publicity campaign reveals on the contrary a new version of the division of identity which makes the direction chosen more significant by confusing the terms of the contract. The deal which the army tries to conclude with its recruitment candidates today corresponds to a reversal of the usual situation in the law of supply and demand since it offers to validate the moral characteristics of their individuality by the professional activity they will undertake when they join, therefore recognizing a priori what they are by what they will do a posteriori.
40 Now presented as assured, with no reserve or fixed limit, this guaranteed recognition adds a further difficulty to the nodal problem the army has faced since professionalization, because of poor adaptation from initial motivation to the jobs people are given and of job expectations to the values of the institution (Léger 2004). As for initial motivations, a study of these shows that they are directly linked to “status values”: the decision to leave the army can indeed be put down to mobility running counter to the wish to achieve a good balance between work and home life and to the need to be available leading to overwork and the deterioration of everyday working conditions. Within this already unfavorable context, the new difficulty taken on by the army by focusing its communication on register, typical of contemporary individualism, authenticity, and self-fulfillment (Taylor 2005), stems from the illusion of recognition that it leads to, the negative effects caused by excessive expectations for unconditional recognition with nothing in return. Indeed, such positioning cannot fail to resonate with the particularly strong issues that are always part of the decision to join up. Firstly because it is now taken, as with other career choices, with an eye to the self-fulfillment, interest, and pleasure one hopes to derive from it (Dubar 2000). But does this culture of subjectivity really suit the military condition? Can concern for oneself be reconciled with sacrifice and a willingness to give of oneself for the greater good, with disinterest and subordination?
41 To this first reservation we may add another, related to the deeply compensatory nature of the decision to join up, always taken in the hope of finding an alternative identity provider to college and sometimes to the family. The army is associated with a second chance, a way of recovering one’s self-esteem and proving one’s worth, because it offers the possibility of finally having one’s human and professional qualities recognized and better than they would be in civilian life. The multiform need for recognition by these young people whose experience of life has made them vulnerable, is exactly what is now being targeted and emphasized by the slogan “become yourself.” It will inevitably come up against the narrow normative setting delineated by the real personal qualities the army expects from its candidates and the specific values it actually needs. The cultural and functional impossibility of satisfying every expression of self and related expectation of recognition, even when these have been encouraged, will be seen in the ordeal of discovering the actual conditions involved in the exercise of the professions of the armed forces, as the values and standards of behavior expected by the institution are demanded on a daily basis.
42 Moreover, the weight that personnel give to recognition accorded by the institution, when calculating their level of satisfaction, bearing in mind that devotion and sacrifice are all the more dearly assented to for having been unknown on joining up, becomes greater if the values demanded by military status are regarded as a diversion from their meaning and primary purpose to serve an “ideology of recognition” (Honneth 2006, chap. 8) destined, by processes of rhetoric or ready-made formulae claiming to give people value, to produce a self-interested conformity. This is what happens, for example, when availability and self-giving are used, hiding personal convenience, lack of organization, or a wish to test one’s subordinates, as a pretext for a superior to justify asking for greater commitment at work or else obedience to orders and decisions that have already been taken but that participatory management tries to hide behind the artifice of discussions that are supposed to lead to consensus.
43 The feeling of having been tricked and cheated, the lack of consideration that results from this disappointing confrontation with these realities (Haut Comité à l'évaluation de la condition militaire 2007), inevitably translates, on top of the normal disenchantment that can result from entry into any professional milieu, into more behaviors indicating a loss of interest, which make operations to instill loyalty more difficult; to this can be added various dysfunctional attitudes which, ranging from management of the behaviors of the claim culture (voice) to problems of organization caused by defections (exit), hamper the optimal functioning of the institution and thus inevitably make it more vulnerable (Hirschman 1972). Indeed, this promised recognition of identities, both professional and more personal, does not translate into fact as evidenced by some key statistical indicators: the number of candidates per post is continually shrinking, the length of commitment is becoming shorter and shorter, and there are ever-increasing departures, and particularly spontaneous departures,  in populations precisely targeted by the new slogan.
Recognition Contested by the Civilian Defense Force: The Competition of Legitimacy and Invisibility
44 The reduction in the ratio brought about by professionalization and the major recruitment of civil servants that followed gave new visibility to the civilian personnel who now represent 20 percent of the staff of the Ministry of Defense in general and of the army in particular. Their visibility is even greater than their numbers might suggest, and in certain groups it is higher than that of the military, resulting from their deployment over a broad range of assignations (in regiments as well as in management and general staff) and functions (both in execution and concept). Brought together under the generic term of “civilianization,” all these processes have resulted in a reworking of the way in which the work is organized and functions and responsibilities are shared out, and have caused problems of cohabitation between the two populations which are more or less serious according to time and place, ranging from trivial tensions between individuals to much wider conflicts.
45 Indeed, “civilianization” essentially poses a dual problem of recognition to the military who are at the mercy of a process of invisibility as the visibility of civilians grows within the institution, without this however, according to these civilians, being accompanied by any increased consideration for them. Moreover, the presence of civilians turns the question back to the matter of specific military character in its cultural and identity dimensions on the one hand, and their professional status on the other. The “threat” represented by civilians therefore lies in a potential shrinking of the military’s prerogatives and assignations which would then be strictly limited to the domain of operational activities.
46 Initially in fact, expectation of recognition by the military is linked to the specific nature of their role whose identity and cultural characteristics are already influenced by the attitudes and values held by civilians. A survey of young civil servants employed by the army (Letonturier 2007) shows their strong attachment to hierarchy, order, and discipline, as well as their pronounced taste for tradition, solidarity, and team spirit. Their desire to participate in military events (such as change of command parades or flag-raising ceremonies), for the feelings of national pride or even patriotism that these arouse, as well as in the various team-building activities organized within groups, fulfills the “military” component of this tendency. Similarly, mobility, which is a central element in military status, is accepted as a normal and perfectly natural part of their professional career and understood to be a tool for diversifying their experience and proving their skills for their career development. As for availability, these civil servants believe that they prove this by living up to the demands and regularly-expressed needs of the service, particularly by undertaking the functions of military personnel who are away on missions, alongside their own duties. When they are also observed in the light of the partial process of “civilianization” of the military, these processes of hybridization and duality of identity lead to the interesting issue of the “multiple self” of personnel within the army, and of the formation and coexistence of these different facets of individual conciliation and institutional modes of recognition (Lazzeri 2009).
47 All the evidence points to the fact that the military do not have a total monopoly over the values and behaviors they attribute to themselves; there is not enough to justify any particular recognition nor to explain the difficult cohabitation of the two populations. The origins of conflicts reveal, at the same time that they distance these values from their possible cause, another aspect in the issue of recognition of the military, linked to their cultural exclusivity. A survey shows that these conflicts are very largely the result of organizational parameters of various types (speed and level of “civilianization”; division of occupations by population, age and qualification of personnel; existence of knowledge transfer; and level of technology of occupations) whose combination has a direct positive or negative effect on the social climate of groups which can then, according to a whole intermediary gradation, be either perfectly peaceful or extremely tense (Letonturier 2007).
48 Work configurations, by exacerbating professional relationships, reveal the depth of conflicts, that is, competition for professional legitimacies and skills that in fact do not differentiate the status of individuals in the exercise of their functions. The second drama in professionalization which is stirred up even more by “civilianization,” is that recognition of the military is no longer automatic, as now that they are not an absolute requirement, an essential condition for the performance of the occupation, they become replaceable. At the very time when professionalization is destined to avoid any form of amateur participation in matters of defense, lack of consideration stems from this threat from civilians to the legitimacy of the professional prerogatives of the military by having as much, if not more, technical skill than the military, by fulfilling the same functions as them, by replacing them during missions, and sometimes even by commanding them, in short, by becoming indispensable. But this place and the central role that civilians play are not, according to them, properly accredited by career paths equivalent to those offered to military personnel, and this feeds their feeling of not themselves being recognized as full, participating members of the institution. Shared therefore by both populations, which each feel itself invisible either through excess or insufficiency, these feelings of lack of consideration seep into daily relations and crystallize in a critical comparison of the supposed advantages of their respective status, creating jealousies and feelings of injustice and contempt (Letonturier 2002; Chelly, Capdevielle, and Lebret 2000).
49 At the end of this study, as partial as it is provisional, which aimed to test how the conceptual framework of the sociologies of recognition could be applied to the res militaris, an analysis of the different levels of expression of this need or quest finally leads us to consider it as a problematic and even paradoxical illustration of the operational and organizational systems of the armed forces (Thomas 1994). Societal approval is entirely conditional and awarded to activities in the theatre of war according to how they conform to social values such as the value given to life, peace, and human rights. There can be sharp reversals of opinion, such as during the events in Srebrenica in 1995, following which Dutch public opinion questioned the legitimacy of its army’s professionalization because it had not been able to prevent by force the massacre of the Bosnians. War situations, which themselves involve more issues of identity recognition than of material interest or desire for power (Lindemann 2008), remain therefore the principal settings where the recognition of armies is at stake through operational activities—caught between changing regulations and social values—and the complex political and diplomatic framework of the international organizations that initiate them.
50 Finally, it is still in the light of combat—always primary (Dabezies 1980) but too often forgotten in the sociology of military identity—that “rights” to recognition are defined by the duties demanded of personnel. If, generally speaking, "there is no reason to think that that all claims for recognition are inevitably just and legitimate” (Dubet 2007, 18), the possible range of institutional compromise and the limits to be given to demands for recognition here lie in the articulation of individual expectations of self-fulfillment drawn from adhesion to functional and cultural principles that are essential to the missions assigned to the armed forces.
51 The specific military situation invites us then to relate the problem of individual recognition to the nature of the institution. The right of the individual to be recognized by the institution for his value and difference, which is demanded by the culture of self-fulfillment, is organized by the need (Boëne 1998), or rather by the obligation, of the institution to present itself as socially different from other institutions, to require particular individual characteristics and to exclude others, in order to ensure that the aims and objectives entrusted to it are successfully achieved. In the light of this, not recognizing every demand simply means having a sense of responsibility.
1In 1998, more than 60 percent of officers in the Collège Interarmées de Défense (Joint Service Defense College) considered that the professionalization of the armed forces would lead to the distancing of the military institution from the rest of society (Jankowski 1998).
On the initiative of the government, the “Second chance defense” program was launched in 2005 with the aim of improving the professional integration of young people (18–25 year-olds) with social and educational difficulties. Within this framework around twenty public colleges were created for entry into the forces (EPIDE) whose mission was to provide paid training in a residential setting and of variable duration (8–24 months) including apprenticeships, civic, academic, and professional training, given by a mixed team of former military personnel, teachers from the national education system, and external trainers. Emanating from the Réserve citoyenne d’Île-de-France (Citizen Reserve of the Île-de-France), operation “105 permits” in 2005 consisted in giving a means of practical access to employment by awarding 105 young people a driver’s license on completion of a citizen’s course (including military training).
CFM: Conseil de la fonction militaire (Council of military function, which exists in each of the armed forces). CSFM: Le Conseil supérieur de la fonction militaire (Higher Council of military function, in the Ministry of Defense).
“The Haut Comité has noticed that a number of those with whom it deals have expressed the firm belief that they are more frequently requested than other agents of the state and that they consequently have a much higher expectation of individual and collective recognition” (42). Let us note that this feeling of lack of recognition is also shared by the American military as pointed out by D. Greenaway (2006).
The armed forces recruit 30,000 people per year, across all military categories. The army alone recruits half of this number broken down in 2008 as follows: 10,539 senior non-commissioned officers, 1,237 junior non-commissioned officers, 2,303 volunteers, and 334 officers (source: Haut Comité à l’évaluation de la condition militaire, 2010, using figures from the social assessment provided in 2008 by the Ministry of Defense).
In 2010, for the army, the number of candidates per post for junior non-commissioned officers was three (compared to eleven in 1998). The figure for senior non-commissioned officers is more stable but extremely low (1.6). Those in the latter rank, across all the armed forces, are leaving in ever greater numbers (7,700 in 2000, 15,000 in 2008) with an increasing ratio of sudden departures: 9,300 in 2010 as against 4,800 in 2000. While the levels of spontaneous departures in 2002 was at 10.3 percent (compared with 6.5 percent in 2008), those in the land army are leaving more and more quickly: in 2002, the average length of service was nine years whereas in 2008 it was four years (source: High Committee for the evaluation of the state of the military 2010).