The Paradoxes of War


Miguel A. Centeno

  • Musgrave Professor of Sociology
  • Professor of Sociology and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School

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, 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.

In this course, you will learn some basic military history and sociology as a lens for the more important purpose of seeing the broader social themes and issues related to war. You will learn about war, but more importantly, use it as a 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.

Through readings and activities 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.

Course Status

In Session

What Learners Say

"A fascinating overview of how methods of war developed in the western hemisphere. Enthusiastic professor who kept my interest by presenting ideas concisely and coherently." -Taich

"Thank you, Miguel. I watched your videos with great interest. You and I are the same age so it was interesting hearing your perspectives on things. I have spent most of my life in the Defense industry, both in uniform and now as a contractor. While having never served in combat or seen it from up close, I found your research and application of the sociological aspects of war on a civilization as extraordinarily fascinating. Thank you!" -Tim