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Department of Psychological Sciences

Giovanni Misceo, Ph.D.

COMPANY: Benedictine College

Advisor: Dr. Franz Samelson

Dissertation Title

War and identity: An analysis of the personal documents of Vietnam veterans

Dissertation Abstract

Earlier research on soldiers in war has focused mainly on the fighting effectiveness of soldiers in relation to their ideological orientations and primary group ties, but neglected to consider the impact of combat on the individual participant. The present study is an interpretive analysis of individual war experiences, based on published personal documents of Vietnam veterans.

A review of the literature revealed evidence suggesting that many combatants had experienced a transformation of their personal identity. In social psychological terms, this change appeared to implicate the role of nonnormative social structures for identity formation and alteration. A systematic analysis of 18 first-person accounts of combat in Vietnam explored the hypothesis that combatants who either witnessed or participated in breaches of normative social structures would be unable to maintain a stable conception of their identity.

In a quantitative content analysis, each document was scored on a set of analytic categories, defining grades of identity change and structural instability. The results supported the hypothesis (r =.76). The test-retest reliability of scores was assessed by a probabilistic model developed for this purpose, which may be an important contribution to the methodology for analyses of personal documents.

In the second step, an interpretive analysis of the narrative material provided further support to the hypothesis. Ordering the documents in terms of the degree of identity change revealed four categories of self conceptions: the divided self, the reformed self, the unformed self, and the actualized self. When documents were ordered in terms of stability of social structure, four categories of experienced reality emerged: the formless structure, the vacillating structure, the hidden structure, and the normative structure. These two sets of categories were found to be highly correlated in the collection of documents.

The relevance of these results for understanding personality in social structures was discussed. The issues addressed were (1) the theoretical significance of personal documents in synthesizing a "Weltanschauung" of war; (2) the empirical significance of ethnomethodology for investigating the hypothesis; (3) the methodological limitations of the study; and (4) its implications for the understanding of biographies in their social context.


Ph.D., Psychology, Kansas State University, 1987