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Is genocide preventable? Some theoretical considerations

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Preventionism in genocide studies

Since World War II, the field of genocide studies has evolved as an interdisciplinary and scholarly field in its own right. As an autonomous intellectual field, genocide studies has reached a point where it is necessary to develop models for the analysis of the field itself. In addition to studying the phenomenon of genocide, one needs also to study the study of genocide. The guiding theoretical spirit of such a task comes from the sociology of knowledge, which sees knowledge of genocide as a cultural production of various scholars with particular world-views, biographies, ideological dispositions, and material interests, networks of attachment, all which shape and influence the structure of what is known about genocide. This is not to say, of course, that genocide is a social construction. It is all too real, which is the very raison d'ĂȘtre for genocide studies in the first place. The production of knowledge, however, about it is fundamentally a social process. Genocide is an objective reality, but it is one which people approach with a variety of personal, ideological and disciplinary dispositions which shape what we know about this all-too-real phenomenon. A mark of maturity in the development of a field of study is when those who work within the field engage in reflexive projects, by casting a critical eye not just on the phenomena they study, but on themselves as active producers of knowledge.

This article represents a first step toward what might be called "the sociology of genocide studies." While there are many things about the organization of the field that one could focus on, what follows is an analysis of the idea of prevention in genocide studies, along with some theoretical and empirical reflections on the problems and prospects of the prevention of genocide in the early twenty-first century.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2003-12-01

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