The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Trivia and Discussion: Theories of Genocide

Did you know that April is Genocide Prevention Month? This semester, we’ve focused on the recommendations of the Genocide Prevention Task Force (GPTF) Report. You’ve been quizzed on genocide prevention and leadership, early warning, early prevention, preventive diplomacy, military options, and international action. Especially in considering early warning, we began to delve into what the causes of genocide are–or at least the situations in which genocide and mass atrocities may occur. While we have looked quite a bit about how to prevent genocide, we haven’t much considered what genocide actually is.

TRIVIA: Who coined the term "genocide"? How does the United Nations define it?

DISCUSSION: How does genocide happen? What are some theories explaining its occurrence?

The process of genocide-
Gregory Stanton’s stages of genocide:

1. Classification- Bipolar societies (like Rwanda) most likely for genocide; to prevent genocide from this stage, develop universalistic institutions to create supraidentity or national identity.

2. Symbolization- Giving names or symbols to classifications. While symbolization and classification are listed as stages of genocide, they are natural human behaviors, and will only lead to genocide if they lead to dehumanization.

3. Dehumanization- Equating other groups with animals, insects, etc; spreading hate propaganda
4. Organization- Forming militias, etc
5. Polarization- Driving groups apart with extremism
6. preparation- Identifying and separating the target group
7. Extermination- Eliminating the target group; only intervention can stop this stage
8. Denial- Always follows genocide

A few theories:

  • Economic: There is little consensus on the importance of economic factors leading to genocide; some point out that in the allocation of resources, some groups are advantaged while others are disadvantaged, which may foster tension among groups. In addition, difficult life conditions, paired with a certain social structure and culture, can create an unfavorable view of one group by the other. While this is the case, others, like Donald Horowitz, note that there has not been an exhibited relationship between economics and conflict; furthermore, economic factors cannot account for the intense feeling that is often associated with identity-based conflict.
  • Type of government: Gregory Stanton argues that the prevalence of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes correlates with instances of genocide; therefore, genocide prevention policy should promote the establishment of democracies. However, Helen Fein says that while nondemocratic regimes may be more likely to engage in war and practice genocide externally with other countries, this is not the case with genocide occurring within the country. Barbara Harff argues that it is not necessarily the type of government, but rather a significant change in government that can lead to the occurrence of genocide.
  • Modernization: Mark Levene notes that “As the demands of the system intensify, the drive of the relatively weaker states to more rapid, fast-speed development will also intensify; so in turn will the limiting factors, economic competition, demographic explosion, resource scarcity and massive ecological degredation, conspire to wreck their ambition. Genocide in the future is likely to become a function and all too regular by-product of attempts to attain the unattainable.”
  • Group legitimacy and insecurity: This idea, largely promoted by Donald Horowitz, emphasizes the importance of emotion in engaging in conflict. The human need to belong to a group as an essential component of personal identity, along with the categorization of groups, leads to strong emotion regarding group identity. The worth and legitimacy of the group is highly important to personal identity. Groups that are associated with the land are considered most legitimate, while groups which may perceived as having foreign origins may be viewed as unwelcome intruders. The categorization of groups can lead to the mutual fear of the other, and, insecure about the intentions of the other group, groups may seek to eliminate the other group in the belief that the other group seeks to eliminate them.

Email to receive trivia, discussion guides, and weekly news briefs.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>