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What is Genocide?

ISBN: 978-0-7456-3183-7
232 pages
February 2007, Polity
What is Genocide? (0745631835) cover image


In this intellectually and politically potent new book, Martin Shaw proposes a way through the confusion surrounding the idea of genocide. He considers the origins and development of the concept and its relationships to other forms of political violence. Offering a radical critique of the existing literature on genocide, Shaw argues that what distinguishes genocide from more legitimate warfare is that the enemies targeted are groups and individuals of a civilian character. He vividly illustrates his argument from a wide range of historical episodes, and shows how the question 'What is genocide?' matters politically whenever populations are threatened by violence.

This compelling book will undoubtedly open up vigorous debate, appealing to students and scholars across the social sciences and in law. Shaw's arguments will be of lasting importance.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements viii

Introduction 1

1 The Sociological Crime

Social classification and genocide 3

Studying genocide? 4

Disciplining the study of genocide 6

Sociology and the sociological crime 9

Revisiting concepts and classification 11

Part I Contradictions of Genocide Theory 15

2 Neglected Foundations

Genocide as social destruction and its connections with war 17

Lemkin’s sociological framework 18

Genocide and the laws of war 23

Separation of genocide from war 26

Narrowing genocide to physical destruction 28

Conclusion 33

3 The Maximal Standard

The significance of the Holocaust 37

Holocaust ‘uniqueness’ 38

The Holocaust standard in comparative study 42

Holocausts and genocides 45

4 The Minimal Euphemism

The substitution of ‘ethnic cleansing’ for genocide 48

Origins of ‘cleansing’ terminology 48

‘Cleansing’ and genocide 50

‘Non-genocidal’ expulsions? 54

Peaceful, legal ‘transfers’ and ‘exchanges’? 58

The territorial dimension 61

5 Conceptual Proliferation

The many ‘-cides’ of genocide 63

New frameworks: murderous cleansing and democide 63

Ethnocide and cultural genocide 65

Gendercide 67

Politicide 69

Classicide 72

Urbicide 75

Auto-genocide 76

Genocide as a framework 77

Part II Sociology of Genocide 79

6 From Intentionality to a Structural Concept

Social action, social relations and conflict 81

Intention in the light of a sociology of action 82

Limits of intentionality 89

Social relations and a structure of conflict 93

7 Elements of Genocidal Conflict 97

Social groups, social destruction and war 97

Social groups in genocide 97

The destruction of groups 105

Genocide as war 109

8 The Missing Concept

The civilian category and its social meaning 113

The civilian enemy 114

Civilians in international law 117

Social production of civilians 122

Civilians, combatants and social stratification 127

Civilian resistance and genocidal war 129

9 Explanations

From modernity to warfare 131

Types of genocide 132

Modernity 133

Culture and psychology 137

Economy 139

Politics 140

Warfare 145

Domestic and international 148

Conclusion 151

10 The Relevance of Conceptual Analysis

Genocide in twenty-first-century politics 153

A new definition 154

New historic conditions for genocide? 157

Contemporary challenge: the case of Darfur 162

Notes 172

References and Bibliography 196

Index 209

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Author Information

Martin Shaw, Professor of International Relations and Politics, University of Sussex
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The Wiley Advantage

  • Book on a timely topic by an author of international standing.
  • Really gets to grips with the conceptual issues around genocide - others focus mainly on legal issues or historical material
  • Argument is vividly illustrated from a wide range of recent and historical episodes, including Darfur, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia.
  • Looks at wide range of political violence, helping the book to appeal more widely.
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"This book is rigorous and robust and puts forth a compelling case ... Shaw's idea of genocide as a form of warfare is rich, compelling and important."
Alex J. Bellamy, International Affairs

"Its contribution as a text that might be useful pedagogically is beyond question."
British Journal of Sociology

"Martin Shaw argues that genocide studies have mistakenly focused on the intentions of the perpetrators and the identities of the victims rather than on the structure of conflict situations. He wants us to return closer to Raphael Lemkin?s original definition of genocide, which focused on attacks by the armed on the unarmed. Genocide, Shaw says, is a form of war directed against civilians. Whether we will all agree on how to define terms like 'genocide' or 'ethnic cleansing', his book is a model of conceptual clarity and cogent argument, a valuable addition to the literature, greatly assisting our understanding of genocide."
Michael Mann, University of California, Los Angeles

"By re-examining the sources of the genocide concept in the thought of its inventor, Raphael Lemkin, in light of classical and contemporary social theory, Martin Shaw is able to correct the cumulative distortions in definition and analysis of earlier practitioners of 'genocide studies', thereby making genocide a viable category with which to understand perhaps the most disturbing aspects of the past and present world. Scholars in the field will welcome his intelligent discussion of the issues even where they may differ in emphasis."
Dirk Moses, University of Sydney

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