Soldiers as laborers: A theoretical model

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Armies always reward soldiers in ways that are valuable in civilian life. Soldiers figure in two simultaneous reward systems: material rewards and symbolic rewards that stem from the prestige and honor accruing to military service. In general, inverse relations are observed between material and symbolic rewards. Increasing the symbolic rewards decreases the expectation for material rewards, on the condition that the former are highly convertible into valuable assets such as social rights and professional mobility. Part of the historical process of state-building, the end of mercenarism was accompanied by a decrease in material rewards, whereas symbolic rewards increased as military service determined the eligibility for citizenship and its status. Conversely, attenuated symbolic rewards increase expectations for greater material rewards, as a sort of bridging or substitute compensation. In turn, increased reliance on material rewards frequently devalues symbolic rewards as it subverts the soldiers' image as bearing the weight of national missions and portrays them as holders of a rewarding occupation instead, as in the transition from conscript to volunteer forces of the post-Cold War militaries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-208
Number of pages22
JournalTheory and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2007
Externally publishedYes


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