Technological determinism(s) and the study of war

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Department of Social Sciences


The concept of technological determinism has been a mainstay of discussions in history of technology and especially in science and technology studies (sts) for about half a century, yet military history as a field has generally sidestepped the idea as a category of analysis. Military historians, however, would do well to consider some of the insights from these other fields, for they can fall prey to (tacitly) deterministic analyses. Although the emphasis on tactical and strategic factors, as well as leadership and soldiers’ experience, sometimes insulates technological explanations from appearing to be causal, a casual reading of both military history and contemporary military policy seems to show that warfighters and political leaders often see technology as transformative. This is all the more evident in the discussion of military revolutions and especially revolutions in military affairs (RMAs), where technology is a least a leg of the stool, and at “best” a transformative agent.

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