The Paradoxes of War

The Paradoxes of War teaches us to understand that war is not only a normal part of human existence, but is arguably one of the most important factors in making us who we are. Through this course, I hope that you will come to appreciate that war is both a natural expression of common human emotions and interactions and a constitutive part of how we cohere as groups. That is, war is paradoxically an expression of our basest animal nature and the exemplar of our most vaunted and valued civilized virtues. You will learn some basic military history and sociology in this course as a lens for the more important purpose of seeing the broader social themes and issues related to war. I want you to both learn about war, but more importantly, use it as way of understanding your everyday social world. So, for example, the discussion of war and gender will serve to start you thinking about how expectations of masculinity are created and our discussion of nationalism will make clear how easy “us-them” dichotomies can be established and (ab)used. I will suggest some readings for you to complement the class and assign some activities through which you will be able to apply the theoretical insights from the course to your observations of everyday life. At the end of the course, you will start to see war everywhere and come to appreciate how much it defines our life.


Miguel Centeno
Miguel A. Centeno
Musgrave Professor of Sociology and Professor of Sociology and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School

Professor Centeno was the founding Director of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (2003-2007). In 2000, he founded the Princeton University Preparatory Program. He is the author of Democracy within Reason: Technocratic Revolution in Mexico, and Global Capitalism among other works. Forthcoming books include War and Society, 2014 and Building States in the Developing World (w. A. Kohli and D. Yashar).