ASTK15372U COURSE: Technology, bureaucracy and legitimacy in future battlefields

Volume 2015/2016

Bachelorlevel 10 ECTS

Masterlevel 7.5 ECTS


Elective in the Specialisation "International Relations, Diplomacy and Conflict Studies"


Purpose: The use of new technologies in armed conflict has historically been decisive – not just for the outcome of the war, but for the development of modern societies in general. However, new technologies introduce both new opportunities and new dilemmas in military operations. They reconfigure the battlefield and format the relation of time, space, humans and machines in new ways. The development of new technologies thus opens up new domains of “hybrid” warfare, new types of risk and new types of securitizations, which challenge the ethical and legal principles of organization and regulation of military force. This, in turn, sets the classical bureaucratic order and principles of rational deliberation under political pressure.  In other words: New technologies not only redefine the military frontlines, but also introduce a new range of political, ethical, judicial, industrial and economical justifications in the discourse of security and risk management. The purpose of the elective is to explore this innate connection between technology, bureaucracy and legitimacy, which we will term as technoethics. As a broad generic concept, technoethics refer to the military and governmental strategies of justification that associate the idea of good and just conduct of war with the idea of good and just conduct of governance.

Contents: This elective introduces the students to a number of theoretical as well as empirical perspectives on the use of new technologies in complex military operations. We will rely on new sociological theories of justification, critique and legitimacy as well as theories of bureaucracy and science and technology (STS) applied to areas such as cyberwarfare, robotics, bionics, human enhancement, artificial intelligence etc. In this context, we will discuss the ethical and professional dilemmas that emerge in the military organization and its practices of risk management.

Use: The elective gives the students a unique access and insight into the military organization and its professional challenges. Furthermore, the combination of theoretical perspectives and empirical cases gives the student the competence to work with practical issues in the tension between technological development, security and military risk management.


Learning Outcome

Aim: The aim of the course is to outline a new field of research under the general term of technoethics, including the ability of the student to present, analyze and reflect on the applied theories and the empirical cases in order to engage a critical debate on the development and use of military technologies in future conflicts.

Baarda, Th.A. van and D. Verweij (2006) Military Ethics. The Dutch Approach. A Practical Guide, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Boltanski, Luc and L. Thévenot (2006) On Justification. Economies of Worth, Princeton University Press.

Du Gay, Paul (2000) In Praise of Bureaucracy, Sage Publications, London.

Weber, Max (1994) “The Profession and Vocation of Politics”, in Weber: Political Writings, eds. P. Lassman and R. Speirs, Cambridge University press, Cambridge, pp. 309-369.

Whimster, Sam and S. Lash (1987) Max Weber, Rationality and Modernity, Allen & Unwin, London

Prerequisites: Knowledge of the basic discussions concerning the relationship between politicians and civil (military) servants as well as discourse analysis as theory and method will be an advantage, but not decisive. The same applies to knowledge of new sociological theories of the development of modern complex societies.
Form: The elective is formed as a practice-oriented research program with a high degree of involvement of the students – not only in the theoretical discussions, but also in a number of smaller case studies conducted by the students. In addition there will be guest lecturers from the military organization, the administration, the industry and the research institutions. The overall intention is to engage the students in dialogue with relevant actors from the military, the civil and the political world.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assesment