Tag Archives: military sociology

Total Institutions, Military Capital, and the Israeli High-Tech Industry


by Ori Swed

Total institutions and their impact on those who pass through their gates have been the focus of sociological inquiry for some time (Davis 1989; Farrington 1992; Goffman 1961:1968; Scott 2011). One of the interesting byproducts of being an occupant of one of these institutions is the attainment of the institutional capital and its ramifications. This institutional capital, gained within the institution’s corridors, does not stay put or disappear when stepping back into civilian life. It becomes part of, and sometimes replaces, an individual’s social and cultural capital. What happens to the individuals who went through the total institutions’ re-socialization process, and who now carry alternative capital in their toolkit? Can this institutional capital operate outside of the institution? Does it have worth out of the total institutional environment?

For the most part, it does not. Not because it cannot, but because it requires a proper setting. It can translate well, however, in particular fields and or within groups and organizations that know how to utilize it.

For example, the military is a classical total institution that systematically, purposely, and officially re-socializes its occupants, erasing their civil identities and molding a military one. When veterans conclude their service, the re-socialization impact lingers. They still carry the institutional logic and norms with them to civilian life. Many times, this institutional capital is so potent that it can disrupt the re-socialization (or de-socialization) process back to civilianhood. Veterans often report reintegration difficulties, some related to the need to recalibrate their behavior and norms, or to remove the institutional capital and replace it with a civilian one. Nonetheless, since this capital is not an exclusive type of knowledge that is frequently shared with many others, individuals, groups, and institutions can utilize the institutional capital (in that case the military capital) for civil or economic purposes.

So, what is military capital?  In Swed and Butler (2013), military capital was defined as the amalgamation of three types of capital bundled together: human capital (professional training), social capital (social ties), and cultural capital (social codes). This capital source is the total institution’s experience and the re-socialization process.

The Israeli case study presents an interesting example for the examination of the military capital utilization in the market. Israel is characterized by high percentages of veterans and their high levels of integration in the market and civilian life, which consequently serves as a good case study. Examination of the Israeli leading sector, the high-tech industry, reveals a strong correlation between military capital and job attainment in the industry.  Two surveys of the Israeli high-tech sector (ICBS 2007 and Ethosia 2012) illustrate the profile of the Israeli high-tech sector employee: about 90% of the sampled population has military capital, as they served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

Figure 1

Those numbers are extremely high, even in a context where Israeli military service is mandatory. The actual veterans’ representation in the general population (across cohorts) is about 60%, and in the relevant age group it is less than 50%. A closer examination of the employees’ military background shows that around 60% served in combat or technological units (Figure 1). Those two types of units, which account for merely 20% of the general IDF servicemen, demonstrate very high representation in the industry. These units are known for going through intensive training that, in turn, generates higher military capital. These findings concur with the Honig et al. (2006) study on Israeli venture capital companies, showing that 85.4% of entrepreneurs are veterans with high military capital.

The Israeli high-tech industry is de-facto a military capital cluster that utilizes skills, networks, and culture for market purposes. As a result, the possession of military capital increases job attainment chances in the Israeli high-tech sector, while not having it diminishes those chances significantly. Further, the data shows that in the Israeli context, high military capital triumphs education, and has a positive impact on gender equality. Female representation in the Israeli industry (35%) is considered exceptionally high (for comparison, in the US high-tech industry it is about 25%). Examination of the female employee profile data reveals that the majority possesses military capital.

To conclude, taking into account the notion of military capital, or total institution capital, might paint a new light the examination of pressing issues in reintegration, market efficiency, and equality.



Davies, C. (1989). Goffman’s concept of the total institution: Criticisms and revisions. Human Studies12(1), 77-95.

Farrington, K. (1992). The modern prison as total institution? Public perception versus objective reality. Crime & Delinquency38 (1), 6-26.

Goffman, E. (1961). On the characteristics of total institutions. In Symposium on preventive and social psychiatry (pp. 43-84).

Goffman, E. (1968). Asylums: Essays on the social situation of mental patients and other inmates. Aldine Transaction.

Honig, B., Lerner, M., and Raban, Y. (2006). Social capital and the linkages of high-tech companies to the military defense system: Is there a signaling mechanism?. Small Business Economics27 (4-5), 419-437.

Scott, S. (2011). Total institutions and reinvented identities. Palgrave Macmillan.

Swed, O., and Butler, J. S. (2013). Military Capital in the Israeli Hi-tech Industry. Armed Forces & Society.

PHS presents Ori Swed: “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Case Study in Historical Contingency”

by Luis Romero

OriTalkTo kick off the 2013-2014 academic year, the Power, History and Society Network (PHS) hosted a workshop for Ori Swed. This served as a practice talk for Ori before his anticipated presentation at the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT) at Syracuse University. The event attracted members from the first-year cohort, faculty, undergraduates and the PRC. Ori Swed at Syracuse University.

In this talk, Ori asks sociologists to think more carefully about how they engage and understand history in their work. Through an analysis of Israeli political narratives regarding the resolution of future Israeli-Palestinian statehood, Ori offers an interesting illustration of the symbiotic quality of discourses. Discourse studies show how narratives create and conjure potential conclusions or resolutions to a social problem. However, Ori seeks to look at the other side of this relationship and has developed a theoretical tool which he terms “historical contingency.” By this, Ori means that sociologists should look at how anticipated conclusions influence the narratives produced in the midst of an unresolved problem.

Ori’s project is as much about matters of methodology and theory as it is about discourse. He contends that oftentimes when analyzing social events, assessments are clouded by the outcome or conclusion, which is used as the lens to retroactively understand a course of events. There is a major problem with interpreting events from their culmination, particularly for historians and historical sociologists. This problem occurs because our perspective (or narrative) often changes when we learn the event’s conclusions. A simple example that addresses the psychological aspect of Ori’s point is the tale the “fox and the grapes” (known as “amor fati” or “love of destiny”). The story partly illustrates for us how, upon learning the conclusion of an event, we reinterpret the course of events. For the fox, who is eager to steal some grapes from a nearby vine, the grapes proved inaccessible in the end. Retrospectively, the fox reflects and reassesses the worth of the grapes (“Oh, you weren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes”) and that the branches were beyond reach. So, when we learn of an event’s conclusion, we often try to make sense of it in a way that is linear and not arbitrary.

Throughout his talk, Ori used the events of a basketball game to describe this problem. When we look at the final scoreboard of a game, it is easy to ascribe certain narratives to match the results, which ultimately negate the narratives that once existed. While this may streamline the description or theory presented, it does not account for all of the events that occurred but rather, only those that help sustain the narrative. For those readers who follow the NBA, the case of Michael Jordan presents a perfect example. Before winning his first championship in 1991, Jordan was known as a player who could score many points but also as someone who would never win an NBA championship. Year after year, Jordan would be eliminated from the playoffs, despite his high-scoring performances, reinforcing the narrative of the scoring champion who would never become an NBA champion. However, this changed after he won his first championship. The Jordan narrative was now that he was able to win championships while the previous narrative had been dropped. In this case, Ori would argue that in order to understand the complexities of Jordan’s career, it is important to understand that the narrative surrounding Jordan was not always that of champion, but also that of a good player who could not win a championship.

However, Ori offers advice to the rest of sociology. He states that because the social sciences frequently study historical events as they unfold (events such as the Arab uprisings for example), we must recognize them as contingent and variable. Ori describes in brief how many analytical frameworks, such as rational choice theory, are conclusion-driven. He cites the preeminent debate of “structure versus agency” in sociology to highlight the contingent quality of social life and the trouble scholars have in accounting for it. In short, by keeping in mind that the moments we are interested in are fluid and contingent, sociology can add a layer of nuance that is not readily found in many works. In the end, Ori is implicitly advocating for more rigorous sociology and believes that using historical contingency as a tool can help sociology accomplish this goal.