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date: 13 June 2021

Editors' Introduction: Changing Themes in the Study of Genocide

Abstract and Keywords

This article describes the state of genocide studies, historicization, and causation, placing genocide into its historical context, and genocide in the world today. ‘Genocide’ is unfortunately ubiquitous, all too often literally in attempts at the destruction of human groups, but also rhetorically in the form of a word that is at once universally known and widely invoked. The comparative scholarship of genocide began with Raphael Lemkin and through the later Cold War period was continued by a small group of dedicated scholars. The discussion also opens the probing of the limits and the utility of the concept of genocide for historical understanding, and placing this crime back in its context that may often include mass non-genocidal violence. It also reflects on the debate about the relationship between individual acts of genocide and the wider political economy and norms of the worlds in which they occur.

Keywords: genocide studies, Raphael Lemkin, Cold War, mass violence, political economy

The State of Genocide Studies

An Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies is easily justified. ‘Genocide’ is unfortunately ubiquitous, all too often literally in the attempted destruction of human groups, but also rhetorically in the form of a word that is at once universally known and widely invoked—perhaps because it is frequently misunderstood. From its introduction to the international public sphere with the United Nations General Assembly resolution on genocide in 1946, the term was seized upon by all sides to name the criminality of their persecution. Indians and Pakistanis made representations to the UN, accusing the other of genocide during the partition while, soon thereafter, Baltic states likewise accused the Soviet Union, and African Americans the United States for lynchings and discrimination. Later, during the Vietnam War, leftist intellectuals assembled an unofficial court to indict the United States for a genocidal campaign. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, secessionist peoples, (p. 2) such as the Ibo of Nige`ria and the East Bengalis of East Pakistan, accused the state of genocide in their ruthless suppressions. Now the Sudanese government stands accused of committing genocide against its citizens in the Darfur region. This new vocabulary of atrocity and destruction, coined by Raphael Lemkin only in 1943, is unlikely to disappear. Now a discipline exists to study it scientifically.

The rise of academic genocide studies is illustrated by the emergence of new scholarly journals since the 1990s: the Journal of Genocide Research and Genocide Studies and Prevention, and the German Zeitschrift für Genozidforschung, which complement the more Holocaust‐centred journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Encyclopaedias of genocide (printed and electronic), Internet discussion groups, and a proliferation of comparative works and collections of case studies now make scholarship increasingly accessible.1 Universities everywhere are expanding existing Holocaust programmes or specialist research centres to include genocide, although usually maintaining the distinction between the Holocaust and genocide. At the level of public policy, ad hoc international and ‘hybrid’ criminal tribunals sit in judgement of genocide and crimes against humanity in Africa, Europe, and Asia; an International Criminal Court (ICC) seeks to do the same on a more permanent and universal basis; the UN now has special advisors on the crime; and the USA has established a task force with a view to creating a dedicated machinery to help forestall imminent genocides or intercede in ongoing cases. These responses to genocide have in turn fostered an extensive literature in case law, jurisprudence, and international relations. The field has come a long way since Raphael Lemkin's struggles to gain acceptance for his neologism ‘geno‐cide’ in the mid‐1940s and, a decade later, to publish his history of genocide.2

The comparative scholarship of genocide began with Raphael Lemkin himself and was continued by a small group of dedicated scholars through the later Cold War period.3 It increased exponentially in the 1990s when the Rwandan slaughter hammered home to Western scholars that genocide was not a thing of the past, while the implosion of Yugoslavia showed that the West could still host the crime. A raft of books that dealt with these and other cases in an episodic manner appeared; i.e., each chapter was devoted to a particular instance of genocide, unrelated to each other except as examples of a generic definition or to highlight the author's thesis about the role of racism, democratization, modernization, and so forth.4

(p. 3)

Another strand of scholarship pointed in a different direction. If one term captured the political and therefore historical imagination after the end of the bipolar Cold War, it was ‘globalization’. The idea of an increasingly interconnected world centred on a Western political‐economic core sent some students of genocide in search of historical precursors and antecedents in the expansion of the West before the twentieth century. Rather than simply compare discrete events, they proposed a more contextual approach that places those events in relation to one another. Above all, they wanted to tie discrete events and national histories to transnational and international processes.5 A contemporary interest in the connections between genocide in the European colonies and the Holocaust at Europe's core may be understood within this framework.6

Given these heady developments, it is easy to forget that genocide studies began as a marginal field, part offspring of, part uneasy junior partner to, the longer standing discipline Holocaust studies, itself a child of the 1970s. The relationship between study of the Holocaust and study of genocide warrants reflection, because it has been both negative and positive, characterized variously by synergies, processes of self‐definition by mutual exclusion, and occasional resentment. On one (p. 4) side of the ledger, the notion of the Holocaust's ‘uniqueness’, based usually on the totality of the Nazis' murderous intent towards Jews, has worked to distinguish it from the rest of the field—with a number of distorting effects.7 If the Holocaust is taken as an ‘ideal type’ genocide, scholars and advocates of particular cases often seek to fit theirs within a ‘Holocaust paradigm’ at the expense of careful contextualization.8 There are political consequences of this implicit hierarchy. The historian Peter Novick was one of many commentators to note this function of Holocaust memory in the reluctance of Western policymakers to intervene in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s because its civil war did not resemble the Holocaust.9 Then there is the tendency in university syllabi, textbooks, and the mantras of public commemoration of genocide to focus upon a few instances of genocide that, for a variety of reasons, have qualified for the canon of general acceptance: alongside the Holocaust, Armenia, Cambodia, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia, and now Darfur tend to be included, but virtually no other cases.

A related consequence of the influence of the Holocaust model has been to overemphasize the role of narrow political ideology in genocide. This tendency is manifested by placing the Holocaust (along, perhaps, with one or two of the other aforementioned select genocides) in a special class of ‘ideological genocides’, neatly distinguished from more supposedly utilitarian genocides, such as those committed in the course of European imperial expansion, civil wars, and campaigns of resource appropriation.10 Such a taxonomy ignores both the concessions that the Nazis did make to practicality in their murder campaigns and, more importantly, the obviously ideological considerations that ultimately permitted, say, Europeans to murder, say, native Americans as if they were simply practical obstacles to be removed. This sort of specious dichotomy of motivation leads to the implicit but nevertheless tangible sense that Holocaust and genocide studies scholars exhibit the same Eurocentric insensitivities that have long characterized Western attitudes towards the indigenous peoples crushed beneath the wheels of occidental ‘progress’.11

(p. 5)

On the equally important other side of the ledger, initial interest in the Holocaust has often provided a springboard from which many students of genocide, who were often Jewish, leapt to examine other cases in the 1980s, especially the Armenian one.12 Moreover, the more advanced Holocaust historiography could provide ready‐made analytical questions for application in the different circumstances of other genocidal situations.13

An obvious function that a volume such as this can perform is to provide one of the periodic updates that any field of enquiry needs. We seek to expand upon, summarize, and help to analytically hone the mass of scholarship now being conducted in the field across a variety of disciplines, and at the frontier interface between the academic and the activist spheres—a ground that a number of our authors occupy to the benefit of both sides. The diverse abundance of research and reflection on genocide is a cause for satisfaction, but there is also the need to ask what it all amounts to, and where it might be heading. If the present volume does not presume to prescribe one future direction, it does seek to promote what its editors see as some of the most fruitful avenues of analytic enquiry. Our interpretation of what qualifies as fruitful is, inevitably, conditioned by our own disciplinary presumptions, and this point brings us to a significant justification for the volume.

Historicization and Causation

For us as editors it is important that this handbook is published within Oxford University Press's history list. The ‘historicization’ of genocide is one of the central goals of the volume. We argue for the importance of a historically based, interdisciplinary method that embeds critical theories more firmly in empirical data. In this way, we believe that the concept of genocide will become more useful to both historians and social theorists, and more relevant to scholars in other fields who do not currently regard the genocide concept as valuable for their particular area.

Our comments are categorically not a criticism of the existing collections of essays on genocide. Indeed, a major section of this volume (part II) is devoted to elucidating the ways in which the approaches of non‐historians have illuminated and in some cases pioneered the investigation of the subject. Lawyers, for instance, (p. 6) have been at least as adept as historically oriented scholars in devising increasingly sophisticated conceptualizations of intent, which remains the key concept in establishing the case for genocide. Besides, other disciplines can illuminate important dimensions of genocide better than history as a result of their methodology: for instance, social psychologists contribute comparative insights from cross‐cultural analysis of human behaviour in specific contexts, and anthropologists provide insights into cultural particularities in ways that have influenced historians much more than vice versa.14 Our intention is, as much as anything, to call for more historians to bring their skills to bear in tandem with other traditions of scholarship: genocide studies should be an interdisciplinary exercise par excellence.

Where historians can make a particular contribution to the interdisciplinary exercise and where, therefore, the greater weight of analysis in this volume falls is in the consideration of temporality, contingency, and particularly the matter of causation. We understand causation not just in the terms of the immediate lead‐up to the crime, or the deeper background causes that are often referred to as contexts, but in terms of the proposition that genocides are the outcome of processes rather than ‘punctual’ events: they, and the people who enact them, are constantly evolving phenomena, subject to a multiplicity of external influences as well as internal volition. Structure and agency are inextricably intertwined.

Leaving aside the scholarship on the ‘final solution of the Jewish question’, which has primarily been the preserve of historians, we find that, until recently, historians have contributed relatively little to the study of genocide. More precisely, while some historians have been involved in elucidating case studies, the shape and assumptions of the field have been governed by disciplines more at ease with making comparisons and contrasts across large tracts of time and space, and with dealing with contemporary affairs. Even those historians who have written wide‐ranging studies on genocide and related matters have had perforce to write in the style not of the idiographic, cultural tradition of history, which is concerned with specificity and difference, but of the more nomothetic or law‐creating tradition associated with the interface between history and the social sciences.15 Both approaches have the obvious costs and benefits involved in the trade‐off between detailed knowledge of particularities and general knowledge of broader applicability; and, in the event, every piece of historically oriented scholarship will inevitably combine aspects of both. This volume seeks to establish a somewhat different balance of the two than evinced in the existing scholarship. It attempts to blur the sharp division that comparable collections, such as the excellent, recent ones edited by Dan Stone and Ben Kiernan and Robert Gellately, still tend to exhibit between (p. 7) one‐genocide‐per‐chapter empirical studies and broad thematic/conceptual studies, as mentioned above.16

The extant collections of commissioned essays are of varying coverage and approach, but some commonalities are apparent. As noted above, as with single‐authored comparative works by the likes of Leo Kuper and Helen Fein, and latterly Eric D. Weitz, Norman Naimark, and Ben Kiernan, the collections edited by Israel Charny, Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, George J. Andreopoulos, Samuel Totten, and William S. Parson, have similar approaches to their subject matter.17 They have either focused on a few ostensibly comparable cases to try to establish general similarities or patterns, and/or they have sought to categorize cases according to broad typologies. Such homogenizing or taxonomic approaches reflect the disciplinary grounding of most of the first genocide scholars in the social sciences, above all, political science and sociology. As a result of this approach, relatively little of the pioneering scholarship that established the sub‐discipline of genocide studies was based on original, empirical research. Unsurprisingly, given the youth of the field that they were so important in shaping, these books also relied upon limited acquaintance with the lesser known cases studies with which they deal. Where specialists on these obscure instances were included, their enlistment nevertheless tended not to result in sufficient space being allocated for the particularity of the history to be fully revealed.

At the same time as being schematic in its approach, the earlier scholarship was also too exclusive in its frame of reference. It created a conceptual trap for itself because of a preoccupation with the definition and applicability of the term genocide. This phenomenological approach provided an interesting replication of the tired ‘uniqueness’ battle in Holocaust scholarship, in that it has served to exclude issues from debate rather than stimulating constructive reflection on the parameters of the subject. The approach has ramifications for historical understanding, with instances of outright genocide being accorded more attention than other related phenomena.

The problem of ‘definitionalism’ has not left us, and it is unlikely to, given the centrality of legal conceptualization at the ‘hard’ political end of genocide studies, and the political capital that groups and states invest in claiming or denying the applicability of the term to cases of particular concern to them. The inflated use of the term genocide is the other side of the coin to overly restricted usage. The question of definition inevitably recurs throughout this volume, but not to the end (p. 8) of some spuriously positivistic attempt to nail down ‘our’ version of it. As the historian Charles Maier has noted, ‘Taxonomy in the social sciences is always difficult, and often unfruitful.’ To attempt to corral cases into a single paradigm is a Sisyphean conceit that ignores the inductive logic by which comparisons are made. Definitive answers cannot be expected when we know that ‘an ideal type will not fit any individual case exactly: It's an abstraction from them all.’18

This collection is committed to probing the limits and the utility of the concept of genocide for historical understanding, and placing the crime back in its context(s) that may often include mass non‐genocidal violence. We do this because the focus on upper case Genocide often entails a focus on outcomes rather than causes and processes that may or may not produce the mass killing which many think is the substance of genocide. The focus on specific types of outcomes that qualify as genocide is analogous to studying the peaks of mountains from above a cloudline that only particularly tall mountains penetrate, when a glimpse beneath the cloudline would illustrate that other mountains fell just short, and that the tallest mountains were connected to others contiguously or via foothills and valleys. Understanding the context in which genocide occurs is equivalent to viewing the landscape in a wider perspective.19

The volume seeks not simply to examine particular cases or ideologies of genocide, but to reflect in a more rounded way upon the relationship between genocide and broader historical trends, periods, and structures. The approach entails going beyond strictly comparative scholarship to something more consciously correlative and contextual. This approach can be operationalized at a number of levels, whether that of the individual group or polity, or of the supranational region, continent or even world. Martin Shaw's call for an international relations of genocide is an attempt to associate different episodes within an overall developmental pattern of interconnected state behaviour.20 Michael Mann's The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (2005) sheds light on how a number of individual cases of genocide—occurring notably in ethnically plural societies passing through key developmental phases when the ethnopolitical identity and territorial integrity of the state is contested—might fit into such a framework; along the way, with (p. 9) reference to European settler societies in colonial contexts, he debunks the spurious notion that democracies do not engage in genocide, and thus the idea that the spread of (capitalistic) democracy is the antidote to genocide as well as war.21

It is Mark Levene, however, who has gone furthest in attempting an overall analysis of an international political economy that seems to have some inherent tendencies towards encouraging murderous intergroup conflict, and in putting that political economy in a distinct historical context, therefore fruitfully combining synchronic and diachronic elements. Levene's Genocide in the Age of the Nation‐State (the first two of four volumes of which appeared in 2005) does not deny the instance of genocide in premodern times, but is concerned with the particular potentiality for genocide in a post‐French revolution, post‐industrial revolution world in which states engaged in increasingly desperate and unrestrained competition for sovereign autonomy and thus resources. As a prerequisite for the struggle they developed a heightened preoccupation with the loyalty and thus identity of their populations, which were at once a major source of potential strength and weakness. In this milieu, states reacted with increasing violence against heterogeneous elements perceived to be either holding back development because of particular cultural patterns or threatening state integrity by their split loyalties. Democratic and free market states contributed to the murderous dynamic quite as much as authoritarian/totalitarian regimes and states with command or dirigiste economies.

While we editors broadly concur with such structuralist and materialist interpretations, and have expanded upon our views elsewhere, by no means all of our authors would subscribe to the same views. We have included a number of scholars whose interpretations cohere with a classically liberal understanding of genocide, where the crime results above all from aberrant political ideologies and oppressive political systems, and where the problem of genocide can be solved by the reassertion of the healthy norms of international democratic society. Others of our contributors may well have no strong view on the matter, or no general view at all beyond their depiction of their own case(s), and all contributions can be read as self‐sufficient, independent essays. In no way do we seek to impose our own editorial conception on our authors, and the fact that all can fit into the volume suggests that distinctions between philosophies of genocide scholarship are often more polarized in the abstract than in practice where, once again, the difference between opposing depictions of the same historical episode are matters of degree and nuance rather than anything else: in reality, all explanations eschew monocausality and embrace varying contexts and contingencies, just as even the most contingent or, again, the most structural explanations cannot account for anything without some reference to ideology and human agency.

(p. 10)

All we seek is to open up the debate about the relationship between individual acts of genocide and the wider political economy and norms of the worlds in which they occur, whether or not those worlds are coextensive with the actual globe (and many of our studies do not require such a broad unit of analysis). We implicitly ask to what extent common features of organized human life across large tracts of space and equally importantly time, and amongst the widest varieties of peoples and polities lend themselves to something like what we today call genocide. Such features include competition for land and resources, imperial expansion, warfare, subordination of populations along political or cultural lines, sovereignty disputes, security fears, accelerated socio‐economic change, and the re‐casting of traditional social hierarchies at moments of sudden flux such as revolution.

Placing Genocide in Historical ‘Time’

Our part III on genocide in premodern and early modern times sheds light not just on common contextual settings for genocide across the ages but also on some continuities in the patterns of genocide's enactment. Alongside the murder of elite bearers of identity and the killing (or enslavement) of ordinary men capable of resistance, such measures include the kidnapping (and rape) of women and children for forced acculturation and the widespread destruction of cultural artefacts. While not universal, there is clearly a set of widely deployed genocidal pragmatics.

Contrary to the opinions of some scholars of the premodern world, and of states like Turkey that have a vested interest in denying the applicability of the term genocide to acts in their own past, it is therefore not anachronistic to discuss genocide avant la lettre, no more than it is anachronistic to apply the modern heuristic term ‘feudalism’ to the premodern past. Lemkin himself was convinced that genocide had always been a part of the human experience, and the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide explicitly refers to its transhistorical character. What certainly have changed over time are the social cleavages on which genocide‐like violence is perpetrated. It is in the enumeration of potential victim groups on select grounds of communal identity that the specifically mid‐twentieth century context of the Genocide Convention is exposed, whatever the historical allusions of the document. To what extent we can use the Convention's terms concerning ‘ethnic’, ‘national’, and ‘religious’ groups (not to mention ‘racial’ [sic] groups) for different times in human history is open to a contestation that varies in intensity depending upon the period in question. That is true over and above the general recognition in today's historical and social (p. 11) scientific scholarship that all human communities of identity are constructed to one degree or another rather than simply ‘given’.

If types of group vary over time, so too do ideas of how membership is constituted and, thus, how the group might be dismembered. Accordingly, discussing potential cases of genocide from beyond the realm of a Western‐created modernity sometimes requires thinking along different lines of logic about group destruction. For instance, the early medieval practice of strages gentium that James Fraser describes in his chapter in our section on premodern and early modern genocide illustrates precisely how the destruction of a proportionally small number of certain elite signifiers of a group could be sufficient to represent the destruction of the group ‘as such’, to use the Convention's terms.

Given different ideologies, cleavages, and logics of genocide, does it therefore make sense to delineate ‘modern’ from ‘premodern’ genocide in the same way one might crudely delineate modern from premodern society? The answer depends upon how one understands the protean concept ‘modernity’. An understanding that leans particularly upon modernity's material (economic and technical) aspects would of course allow that the development of surveillance, bureaucracy, central state strength, weaponry, etc., would create greater facility to pursue and murder ‘enemies’, and would equally allow that the increasing contact between different peoples and the more intensive and extensive exploitation of resources might provoke more and increasingly intense intergroup conflicts, but distinctions along these lines between modern and premodern are of degree rather than fundamental nature.

A comprehension of the peculiarities of modernity that more emphasizes cultural, intellectual, and philosophical shifts is encapsulated in the work of Zygmunt Bauman, which itself draws on deeper traditions in continental critical theory. Bauman provided the scholarship of modern genocide with one of its most powerful motifs when he invented the concept of the modern human society as garden, the modern state as gardener.22 His conception of modernity incorporates its economic and technical aspects but those are subordinate to a post‐Enlightenment cultural order embodied in growing secularism and a spirit of scientistic problem‐solving. For Bauman, modernity is characterized by man's belief that he can reshape humankind in an image of perfectibility that in a more religious age was regarded as the sole preserve of God. Modern genocide is the radical application of this doctrine of perfectibility by one particular section of mankind against debilitating or imperfectible elements within and outside its collective body.

(p. 12)

We do not seek to arbitrate one way or another over the matter of whether a Western‐created modernity differs fundamentally, or only in degree, or only in certain ways, from ‘premodernity’.23 What we would observe is that it tends to be students of the modern, from Nietzsche to Foucault to Bauman, who invest most in modernity's putatively radical difference, whereas scholars of the premodern are as interested in continuities as changes, partly because they see so many premodern precursors of what modernists take to be quintessentially modern social, economic, and cultural developments. Medieval manifestations of genocide are, we believe, particularly interesting because the medieval period is often held up by theorists of the modern (and the postmodern) as modernity's ‘other’ in terms of intellectual, social, and political arrangements.24

On the matter of genocide, it is at least worthy of further discussion, then, that Len Scales's chapter adduces the example of a fourteenth‐century English notary in Dublin who advised his compatriots that ‘when [the Irish] fall into your hands pluck them all up by the root, as the good gardener doth the nettle.’ Here is no mere fleeting coincidence of vocabularies with Bauman's: the notary's injunction was made in the idiom of root and branch destruction in the interests of order and cleanliness, in a context where notions of filth and disease were equated not just with sin but with threat, and where difference, even among members of ostensibly the same religious faith, was by no means necessarily considered reconcilable.

Genocide and the World Today

However one elucidates the relationship of genocide to the prevailing cultural‐philosophical order(s), it is demonstrably the case that in the contemporary world and for the foreseeable future the perpetrator–victim relationship is complicated by the existence of a distinctly modern ‘world order’. This order, as manifested most obviously in occasional third party interventions, but more consistently and characteristically by partisan political and economic pressures that can be (p. 13) inflammatory as well as pacificatory, has been hailed as a potential panacea to genocide.25 In assessing its prospects, we come to the final contribution of the volume.

In considering the relationship between genocide and the way the world order is set up, we seek to problematize the prospect of the ‘international community’ as benevolent policeman, intervening in genocidal situations and punishing génocidaires. In this sense, we provide an implicit critique of the sort of picture painted by Samantha Power in her Pulitzer prize‐winning ‘A Problem from Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide (2003). In Power's vision, the USA, as political and cultural leader of the international community (and, during the Cold War, of the ‘free world’), exists in a solely reactive position vis‐à‐vis genocide. In her final analysis, all that is really needed to combat genocide is for the USA to assert its values with greater conviction and consistency, a greater determination to lead and an enhanced preparedness to assume the human and financial costs of interventionist action. In a similar vein, the opening passage of the executive summary of Preventing Genocide, the report of the US ‘Genocide Prevention Task Force’, chaired by Madeleine Albright and William Cohen, declares that ‘genocide and mass atrocities threaten American values and interests.’ Such approaches focus, as it were, on America's ‘sins of omission’ rather than its ‘sins of commission’. If we allow that genocide does indeed run against American values, it has frequently cohered with American interests, as we can see before the twentieth century in the expansion of the United States of America at indigenous expense, and during the twentieth century in American support for regimes engaged in genocide or ‘politicide’ in, inter alia, Latin America, Indonesia, and Iraq, some of which are considered in this volume.

That which applies to American interests and the interests of so many other states past and present also applies to the international institutions that now have a greater potential than ever to intervene in and punish cases of genocide and related atrocity. Our last section (V) examines some of these institutions and their prospects. It examines them not simply in a responsive capacity, but in a way that considers what forms of political violence they tacitly permit. This tacit permission is distributed in two related ways. The first way is via the norms embedded in the structures of international law and international custom. Those norms have evolved partly in response to mass atrocity and partly in the interests of a state‐based international system in which, whatever the fashionable rhetoric of accountability, sovereign viability and extensive sovereign freedom of action within the domestic realm still remain hugely important structural features. The second way is through the power‐political constellations—particularly in the form of great powers and their alliances—that shape and restrict the reach of ostensibly (p. 14) supranational organizations like the UN and the ICC in accordance with matters of strategic and ideological interest. If genocide studies is to have any activist implications, the critical attention paid to transgressive regimes must also be extended to the states and organizations that create and (selectively) enforce the rules themselves. Some of those states also provide livings for the vast majority of genocide scholars.

The overall balance of the volume is as follows: beyond the present chapter, there are fifteen broadly thematic chapters in parts I, II, and V and sixteen more spatially and temporally delineated chapters in parts III and IV. All of the former are grounded more or less extensively in concrete examples; almost all of the latter reach further than individual instances and contain comparative and correlative elements.

Our authors have taken advantage of their broad remits such that, for instance, Christopher Browning writes not on ‘the final solution’ but on ‘the Nazi empire’; Nicholas Werth writes on the murderous continuities as well as contrasts between Tsarist and Soviet policy in managing a diverse and rapidly modernizing imperial space; Daniel Feierstein considers a number of Latin American countries in the politico‐spatial context of a concerted transnational anti‐communist policy; Africa is divided up not according to individual genocides but according to zones and particular time periods that allow for internal and external comparison; genocides in Asia are divided into conceptual categories such as ‘secessionist’; and so on. In this sense, there is not a clear divide between conceptualization and case study, simply a variation in the relationship between the theoretical and the empirical.

We have tried to be as balanced as possible in terms of chronological and geographical coverage. One of the novelties of the volume is the extensive space devoted to premodern cases, but in the modern period we have also sought to establish a distribution that is neither Eurocentric, neither biased towards the era of the two world wars, nor limited to the better known non‐European cases. Inevitably some candidates for inclusion are not present, but this is not necessarily due to our myopia; a salutary lesson in putting the volume together was the difficulty in locating suitably qualified authors who were interested in addressing genocide in their area of expertise; we also suffered from the inevitable attrition involved in compiling a large collective volume, as some of our authors withdrew too late in the day to be replaced. We regret the absence of planned chapters on genocide and empire, war, and the question of genocide in medieval Eurasia. With the exception of the final one, most of the substantive issues that would have been raised in those missing chapters have been covered to one degree or another elsewhere in the book.

It is with particular regret that we had to forego a chapter on the relationship between economic developmentalism and genocide, since that would have furthered our interrogation of the structural violence inherent to the imperative of (p. 15) material progress upon which the modern world is constructed.26 Nevertheless, the book concludes with a reflection on one of the most deleterious impacts of the ideology of developmentalism for homo sapiens: anthropogenic climate change and its ramifications in coming conflicts of resource scarcity and mass refugee movement.

We are grateful to all our authors for considering our often extensive suggestions for expansion and cross‐integration of their material, and for the rewriting that we frequently requested. All responded with grace and professionalism. Each of their essays includes a select bibliography of relevant further material in English; the footnotes will provide additional specialist reading across the full range of relevant languages. (p. 16)


(1) E.g. Online Enyclopedia of Mass Violence:

(2) Lemkin's papers in the New York Public Library contain numerous letters from publishing houses declining his manuscript, which was never completed or published.

(3) Helen Fein, Accounting For Genocide: National Responses and Jewish Victimization during the Holocaust (New York: Free Press, 1979); Leo Kuper, Genocide: Its Political Use in the Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982).

(4) George J. Andreopolous (ed.), Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994); Norman Naimark, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth‐Century Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001); Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan (eds), The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Eric D. Weitz, A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003); Samuel Totten, William S. Parsons, and Israel W. Charny (eds), A Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts, 2nd edn (New York: Routledge, 2004). This tendency of the literature is analyzed in various works over the past two decades by Mark Levene, culminating in his Genocide in the Age of the Nation‐State, 2 vols. (London: Tauris, 2005). It is critiqued from a theoretical perspective in A. Dirk Moses, ‘Toward a Theory of Critical Genocide Studies’, Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, 18 April 2008:‐a‐Theory‐of‐Critical‐Genocide‐Studies. It is critiqued via a case study in Donald Bloxham, ‘Three Imperialisms and a Turkish Nationalism: International Stresses, Imperial Disintegration and the Armenian Genocide’, Patterns of Prejudice 36:4 (2002), 37–58 and Bloxham's subsequent The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

(5) Mark Levene, ‘Why Is the Twentieth Century the Century of Genocide?’, Journal of World History 11:2 (2000), 305–36; A. Dirk Moses, ‘Conceptual Blockages and Definitional Dilemmas in the “Racial Century”: Genocide of Indigenous Peoples and the Holocaust’, Patterns of Prejudice 36:4 (2002), 7–36; Bloxham, ‘Three Imperialisms’; Bloxham, The Great Game.

(6) Early initiatives in this direction, though rarely cited in the comparative genocide literature, were Woodruff D. Smith, The German Colonial Empire (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1978); idem, The Ideological Origins of Nazi Imperialism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). For the first post Cold War study, Sven Lindquist, ‘Exterminate All the Brutes’ (London: Granta, 1992). For more up‐to‐date work, see A. Dirk Moses and Dan Stone (eds), Colonialism and Genocide (London: Routledge, 2007); A. Dirk Moses (ed), Empire, Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occupation and Subaltern Resistance in World History (New York: Berghahn Books, 2008); Jürgen Zimmerer and Joachim Zeller (eds), Genocide In German South‐West Africa: The Colonial War (1904–1908) in Namibia and Its Aftermath (London: Merlin Press, 2008). For a different perspective, see Robert Gerwarth and Stephan Malinowski, ‘Der Holocaust als kolonialer Genozid? Europäische Kolonialgewalt und nationalsozialistischer Vernichtungskrieg’, Geschichte and Gesellschaft 33 (2007), 439–66.

(7) Some scholars, such as Yehuda Bauer and Raimond Gaita, have at times sought to distinguish Holocaust from genocide, the former connoting the intention of total destruction, the latter something less absolute. See Bauer, ‘Comparison of Genocides’, in Levon Chorbajian and George Shirinian (eds), Studies in Comparative Genocide (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 1999), 31–43; Gaita, ‘Refocusing Genocide: A Philosophical Responsibility’, in John K. Roth (ed.), Genocide and Human Rights: A Philosophical Guide (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005), 153–66.

(8) David Moshman, ‘Conceptual Constraints on Thinking about Genocide’, Journal of Genocide Research 3 (2001), 432.

(9) Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), 245–55.

(10) E.g. Saul Friedländer, ‘The Historical Significance of the Holocaust’, in Yehuda Bauer and Nathan Rotenstreich (eds), The Holocaust as Historical Experience (London and New York: Holmes and Meier, 1981), 4.

(11) For a critique of this implicit theodicy, see Moses, ‘Conceptual Blockages and Definitional Dilemmas in the “Racial Century” ’; Donald Bloxham, ‘Britain's Holocaust Memorial Days: Reshaping the Past in the Service of the Present’, Immigrants and Minorities 21 (2003), 41–62.

(12) This tendency culminated in Robert Melson, Revolution and Genocide: On the Origins of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

(13) Now, though, we are seeing how the quality of research among second and third generation genocide scholars can begin to shed light back onto the Holocaust. Scott Straus, ‘Second Generation Comparative Research on Genocide’, World Politics 59:3 (2007), 476–501.

(14) E.g., Alexander Laban Hinton (ed.), Annihilation Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

(15) Moses, ‘Towards a Theory of Critical Genocide Studies’.

(16) Dan Stone (ed.), The Historiography of Genocide (London: Palgrave, 2008); Gellately and Kiernan (eds), The Specter of Genocide.

(17) Helen Fein, Genocide: A Sociological Perspective (London: Sage, 1993); Israel W. Charny (ed), Genocide: A Critical Bibliographical Review (London: Mansell, 1988); Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn (eds), The History and Sociology of Genocide (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990); Andreopoulos (ed.), Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions; Ben Kiernan, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).

(18) Charles S. Maier, ‘American among Empires? Imperial Analogues and Imperial Syndrome’, German Historical Institute Bulletin 41 (2007), 21–2.

(19) This is also the rationale for a project conceived in 2004 by Mark Levene and Donald Bloxham and forthcoming as a series of ten monographs with Oxford University Press entitled Zones of Violence. The attempt to combine critical conceptual approaches with detailed regional history and empirical reconstruction is at the basis of Bloxham's The Great Game and his volume on the Holocaust in a continental context The Final Solution: a Genocide (Oxford University Press, 2009). Christian Gerlach, Extremely Violent Societies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) also sets individual cases into stimulating wider contexts.

(20) See his chapter in this volume.

(21) Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

(22) Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989). His influence can be detected most clearly among the contributors to Amir Weiner's collection Landscaping the Human Garden: Twentieth‐Century Population Management in a Comparative Framework (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003).

(23) See the chapters by Ben Kiernan, Eric D. Weitz, Omer Bartov, and Marie Fleming in the section ‘Genocide and Modernity’ in Kiernan and Gellately (eds), The Specter of Genocide; the first volume of Levene's Genocide in the Age of the Nation State; A. Dirk Moses, ‘Genocide and Modernity’, in Stone (ed.), The Historiography of the Holocaust, 156–93; Martin Shuster's chapter in this volume; Donald Bloxham, ‘Modernity and Genocide’, European History Quarterly 38:2 (2008), 294–311; and the final chapter of Bloxham, The Final Solution: A Genocide.

(24) Elizabeth Deeds Ermath suggests modernity might be called ‘postmedievalism’ (‘Ethics and Method’, History and Theory 43 (2004), 69).

(25) E.g. Gary Bass, Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention (New York: Knopf, 2008).

(26) Vinay Lal, ‘The Concentration Camps and Development: The Pasts and Future of Genocide’, Patterns of Prejudice 39:2 (2005), 220–43; Gerlach, Extremely Violent Societies; Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, ‘Structural Violence as Form of Genocide: The Impact of the International Economic Order’, Entelequia. Revista Interdisciplinar, [online]. Accessed January 2009; available at