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States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, 2nd Edition

States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, 2nd Edition

Stanley Cohen

ISBN: 978-0-745-64468-4

May 2017, Polity

380 pages

Select type: Hardcover


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Blocking out, turning a blind eye, shutting off, not wanting to know, wearing blinkers, seeing what we want to see . . . these are all expressions of ‘denial'. Alcoholics who refuse to recognize their condition, people who brush aside suspicions of their partner’s infidelity, the wife who doesn't notice that her husband is abusing their daughter - all are supposedly ‘in denial’. Governments deny their responsibility for atrocities, and plan them to achieve ‘maximum deniability’, while bystander nations deny their responsibility to intervene. New climate change research spawns theories of scientific inaccuracy and outright exaggeration from growing camps of climate change deniers.

In this revised edition of his highly acclaimed States of Denial, Stanley Cohen revisits his cogent intervention on these issues. Do these phenomena have anything in common? When we deny, are we aware of what we are doing or is this an unconscious defence mechanism to protect us from unwelcome truths? Can there be cultures of denial? How do organizations like Amnesty and Oxfam try to overcome the public’s apparent indifference to distant suffering and cruelty? Is denial always so bad - or do we need positive illusions to retain our sanity?

Hailed by critics as one of the most important contributions ever made to our understanding of atrocities and suffering, States of Denial is a comprehensive study of both the personal and political ways in which uncomfortable realities are avoided and evaded. Ranging from clinical studies of depression, to media images of suffering, to explanations of the ‘passive bystander’ and ‘compassion fatigue', the book shows how organized atrocities - the Holocaust and other genocides, torture, and political massacres - are denied by perpetrators and by bystanders, those who stand by and do nothing.
  • New edition of a highly acclaimed book by a seminal figure in modern sociology
  • Addresses the way humans shut out and deny difficult truths, from the realities of human suffering on distant continents, to atrocities being carried out before our eyes.
  • Masterfully brings together a vast amount of scholarship and journalistic work, and infuses it with passionate and and riveting analytical insights.
  • Updated to include recent examples ranging from climate change denial to those humanitarian groups which promote acknowledgement and reparation.
  • Includes annotated further reading suggestions to explore this central topic.
  • Compelling reading for students and scholars across the social sciences and humanities, as well as politically engaged readers.