Cohesion in modern military formations
: a qualitative analysis of group formation in junior, specialised and ad-hoc teams in the Royal Marines

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The last three decades have seen substantial changes in how and for what purpose military personnel are deployed, owing to shifts in the character of conflict as well as socio-political transformations. These changes pose new and unforeseen challenges for the creation of cohesion in military teams and for the academic assessment of cohesion. Contemporary scholarship on unit cohesion is focused on either trust between members, or collective task performance of fixed units (i.e., platoons, companies), with the commonly defined task of ‘management of violence’. However, as military personnel are increasingly deployed in task-organised teams, without the luxury of pre-deployment training, forced to engage in tasks which they often have not trained for, and which might not be violent in nature, such deployments are challenging contemporary literature of unit cohesion. In light of these issues, this thesis argues that these recent changes necessitate a re-evaluation of the military cohesion literature. Therefore, this thesis will test contemporary models of cohesion against the experience of modern soldiers. The presented thesis will address this gap in the literature by testing four theoretical models (the Standard Model of Cohesion, the Task Cohesion Model, the Propinquity Model, and Self-Categorisation Theory), by identifying the key constructs within the models. These constructs will be tested against the data collected through 24 focus groups with 109 participants and supplemented by participant observations of two major military exercises. The study focused on three cases: junior Marines in close combat troops (with less than 4 years of experience, n=26), specialised personnel (who have completed a specialisation qualification, n= 27) and task-organised or attached personnel (n=32). Additionally, focus groups with officers were conducted to supplement the experience of the enlisted personnel (n=24). The research has found that all four theoretical models are adding to the discussion on cohesion, with five constructs being reflected routinely in the reports of the participants, albeit in different situations and constellations. However, the study found that the three groups experienced cohesion in different ways, with the constructs playing varying roles in explaining their experience. Given this multi-faceted picture, Self-Categorization Theory (SCT) was more suitable to analyse the experience of the three cases due to the fact that SCT acknowledges the existence of the particularity of intra-group characteristics, used to define oneself and differentiate from other groups. Simultaneously SCT allowed the integration of reported themes such as intergroup competition and perceived prototypicality, which were described to impact the respondents’ sense of their group as a cohesive entity.
Date of Award1 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJulia Pearce (Supervisor) & Christopher Kinsey (Supervisor)

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