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Smart Library on Globalization > Genocide > Topic 1: Defining Genocide > Overview: Defining Genocide
What Are the Conditions for Genocide?
A sociologist describes the conditions of genocide. What conditions are necessary and sufficient to determine whether an episode is a genocide? What are conditions that either reinforce or diffuse a genocide?
Sociologist Helen Fein has spent the better part of her life studying genocide. Why does it occur? How can we tell if an episode is a genocide or some other sort of violence?
She identifies a set of conditions that are both necessary and sufficient to determine whether an episode is a genocide. She also raises a series of questions to help policy-makers, activists and researchers understand the conditions that reinforce or diminish the risk of genocide.
Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Genocide
If the following conditions are met, a genocide is underway.
There is or has been sustained attacks by the perpetrator to physically destroy group members.
The perpetrator is a group under more or less organized leadership. Evidence for this includes:
Victims are selected because they were members of the targeted group.
Victims are defenseless or are killed even if they surrender.
The destruction of the group members shows an intent to kill and was sanctioned by the perpetrator.
Genocides do not happen in vacuums. A whole host of conditions can reinforce (or diminish) genocides. Helen Fein identifies several different types of conditions and poses a series of questions that may help policy-makers, activists and researchers identify situations where genocide has become a dangerous risk.
Punishments for Killing Victim Group Members
Ideologies and Beliefs Guiding Genocides
Contexts of genocide
Perpetrator-victim relations: what were the relations between the victim and perpetrator group like before the violence?
Conditions of the state and society: what was/is the historical or political context of the acts? There are some historical and political contexts that are associated with different genocides, like post-revolutionary states, states losing control or territory, expanding states and empires, war within and between states or periods where state power is being centralized.
Social-psychological contexts: some frames of mind are associated with genocide, including social and personal disorganization and crises of culture and meaning.
Bystander responses: what kind of responses did bystanders (like other states, international and regional organizations, media, broader publics, etc.) have to the perpetrators and victims?
Victim's responses: how do the victims understand and respond to the situation?
Interactions: What effects have bystander reactions had on the victims or perpetrators?
Effects on the victims: What have been the effects on the victims, both during the attacks and after? Is there evidence of personal and social disorganization or post-traumatic stress? Is there any evidence of enduring trans-generational consequences?
Effects on the perpetrators: How has the genocide affected the perpetrators?
Effects on the world system: Have the recognition (or lack of recognition) and sanctions of the genocide had any effect on other states or peoples?
Data and Methods:
Primary and secondary sources on genocide and genocide research.
Full Text Availability:
Full text not currently available for free online.
Fein, Helen. 1990. “Genocide: A Sociological Perspective.” Current Sociology 38:1-126.
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