Miller Center

Joy Rohde

History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania

"The Social Scientists' War": Expertise in a Cold War Nation

Rohde photo

Joy Rohde is Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan

Rohde specializes in U.S. national security policy and the history of science. She is interested broadly in the role that scientific experts—especially social scientists—play in American national security and foreign policy. Her book, Armed with Expertise: The Militarization of American Social Research during the Cold War, investigates the Cold War origins and contemporary consequences of the Pentagon’s social research contracting system. Her current research projects include a study of the role social scientists play in the Global War on Terror and a longitudinal study of the myriad ways the American state has deployed cultural knowledge over the last century to understand, manage, and control its perceived enemies.

In the late 1950s, Army officials and civilian social scientists joined forces to combat the spread of communism to the so-called "emerging nations" of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This fusion of social science and statecraft reached its acme at the Special Operations Research Office (SORO), an interdisciplinary research institute created in 1956 by the Army and American University. For 15 years SORO's political scientists, social psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists worked with Pentagon officials to illuminate the complex social processes involved in the creation of stable, democratic nations. But as the Vietnam War intensified in the late 1960s, a vocal community of academicians lambasted their Army-funded peers as servants of a war-mongering state, forcing SORO's closure in 1969. Rather than severing their close ties to the American state, however, SORO's experts relocated to a network of Washington think tanks and consulting agencies. From there, social scientists continued to influence American national security policy while the authority of their academic counterparts waned. Rohde's dissertation used the case of SORO to examine the multifaceted ways that social knowledge and state power extended, shaped, and reinforced one another during the Cold War.

Fellowship year: 2007

Mentor: Ellen Herman, University of Oregon

Selected Recent Publications

"Police militarization is a legacy of cold war paranoia." The Conversation, October 22, 2014.

Armed with Expertise: The Militarization of American Social Research during the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013). 

From Expert Democracy to Beltway Banditry: How the Anti-War Movement Expanded the Military-Academic-Industrial Complex.” in Mark Solovey and Hamilton Cravens, eds., Cold War Social Science: Knowledge Production, Liberal Democracy, and Human Nature (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012): 137-53.

The Last Stand of the Psychocultural Cold Warriors: Military Contract Research in Vietnam.Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 47 (2011): 232-50.

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