The sociological process of cutting ties to militant groups requires a significant rearrangement of an individual’s social structures. Considering the function of symbolic and social ties can help practitioners gauge the social factors that lead to the successful reintegration of ex-combatant. Sociology overall can provide a valuable interpretation of DDR, and can help practitioners understand the sociological processes underlying the success of DDR programming.
From a sociological perspective, DDR is the re-socialization of ex-combatants into society. Through a process of social and symbolic engagement, ex-combatants are subjected to more stable and productive social forces and structures. Considering the sum of practices, symbols, norms, ideologies, and material objects present in ex-combatants’ everyday lives, can help practitioners unpack the complex sociological processes entrenching DDR programming.
DDR programs are a string of symbolic interactions and social constructions. Disarmament and demobilization happens through micro-level social interactions. In this, combatants perform an action to the community signifying a change in his/her behavior and status in society. From society’s perspective, this process is an initiation right, signifying the ex-combatant’s loyalty to his/her new social group. From the perspective of society, the ex-combatant is making him/her self socially accountable to the community, whereas from the perspective of the ex-combatant, he/she is symbolically beginning to socially-construct a new identity in society.
Reintegration is a continuous socializing practice, more so than a symbolic ritual. In the long-standing endeavor, ex-combatants subject themselves to a different set of social norms and social values in daily engagement. Not only do they change their identity from combatants to civilians, but also reduce or eliminate their contact with or reliance on their previous military networks. This often includes relatives and essential support systems, which makes it difficult for ex-combatants to maintain a degree of seperation.
Similarly to communities, militias are social groups consisting of support networks, norms, a common identity and boundaries of separation. They offer a sense of belonging, and in turn demand a degree of conformity to function. In a sense, militias have push and pull factors, which DDR programs can benefit from understanding. Eliminating a social identity linked with militant groups requires diminishing ties and support systems connecting them to ex-combatants. This is possible only if DDR programs can fill substantial voids left from previous social support systems.
Successful reintegration requires embedding productive abstractions into the social institutions within a given society. On an individual level, it requires newer and stricter forms of cooperation and an increased capacity to create a complex social life by submitting to a generally accepted degree of conformity and set of moral judgments. On a societal level, it requires the infrastructure to socialize ex-combatants. The greatest method of socialization is in the form of educational achievement. While current forms of short-term vocational training in the past has been successful in certain outlets, longer-term infrastructure for educational attainment can have inter-generational effects and provide lasting outlets for continual community engagement.
Self-sustaining education infrastructure is an important center for re-socialization, thus more research should be conducted to explore the practical application of this endeavor. Furthermore, providing long-term education can face many different operational impediments, for example educating participants in remote rural areas. Thus, more research should be done in areas developing strategic solutions to these problems. The nexus between information and communication technologies (ICT) and education in DDR is also another area that is in need of more research.
Given the simultaneous social processes taking place throughout the DDR trajectory, it is imperative that practitioners both consider and address the sociological dimensions of ex-combatants in their community reintegration. Sociological approaches can help professionals account for both individuals and communities in DDR programming. By viewing reintegration as a process of social disengagement and engagement, re-socialization, and the (re-) consolidation of social values and norms, practitioners can better understand the social dimensions of reintegration in DDR.
By Nick Palombo