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The International Relations of Genocide

Thursday October 2, 2008, at 14:00
Aula 4 - IBEI
Research seminar

This paper argues that an ‘international relations’ perspective is necessary to the explanation of genocide. It starts from the recognition that this is not obvious: the dominant framework of ‘comparative genocide studies’ derives from comparative sociology and political science, and largely assumes, more or less explicitly, that genocide is primarily a ‘domestic’ phenomenon, of interest to international relations mainly because it offends against international law. The paper’s first task is, therefore, to argue the necessity of an international-relational perspective. The emergence of a ‘new’ genocide studies, particularly from the study of colonial genocide, which has moved away from the transhistorical comparison of ‘rare’ mega-genocides towards (a) a study of patterns of extensive but often smaller-scale genocidal violence embedded in longer historical processes, and (b) a ‘relational’ approach examining historical linkages between genocides, is helpful in this respect. Some historical work has recognised the importance of the ‘international system’ and of studying historical complexes of international relations; however it is necessary to systematise this tendency, to lay adequate conceptual foundations, and to develop a general international methodology which enables us to grasp genocide in its historical specificity.

This task is not helped by the neglect of genocide in the field of International Relations. This paper begins to remedy this in three major steps. First, it examines what it means to say that genocide is an international phenomenon, and argues that this goes to the heart of core tensions in the conceptualisation of the international. Second, it asks what kind of international perspective would be relevant to the understanding of genocide, and argues for an international historical sociology which (a) recognises the interpenetration of ‘domestic’ and ‘international’ and (b) recognises the significance of historical transformations in the international system to the understanding of genocide. Third, it proposes a schematic outline of an international historical sociology of modern genocide in the movement from colonial genocide to the genocide of total war and most recently post-colonial genocide, linking these to transformations of the international system and in the forms of armed conflict.