30 November 2009

Toward a Criminology of Genocide

In the most recent issue of the journal Theoretical Criminology (November 2009, Volume 13, No. 4 -Sage Publications), a special section is devoted to Criminology's potential contributions to the study and prevention of genocide.

Nicole Rafter of Northeastern University sets the stage for the series of articles that follow. She uses as a platform for the discussion the 2009 book: Darfur and the Crime of Genocide by John Hagan and Wenona Rymond-Richmond {Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. xxii plus 269 pp. ISBN 978-0-521-51567-2 (hbk), 978-0-521-73135-5 (pbk)}, inviting four scholars of genocide and security issues to review the text and comment on its implications. All four reviewers offer generally positive appraisals, and seem to agree that the book has a strong theoretical and empirical grounding and makes a number of important contributions to the study of genocide. Rafter's lead-in offers the following introduction:

Slowly and belatedly, criminology is incorporating genocide as one of the crimes it can and must try to account for. Many criminologists are, in fact, anxious to include genocide in their theorizing and teaching, but they have lacked an example, a road map to guide them through this difficult terrain. Darfur and the Crime of Genocide offers that guide. To bring it to the attention of other criminologists, I invited four scholars to review the book and assess its potential for the evolving criminology of genocide. The reviews are followed by a response in which John Hagan and Wenona Rymond-Richmond react not only to the reviewers, but also to a challenge to the propriety of their attempt to intervene in African politics. In a number of ways, the following contributions mark a milestone in the development of criminological thought. (p. 475)
The first of the four reviews is provided by Joachim J. Savelsberg (Genocide, criminology, and Darfur, Theoretical Criminology 2009 13: 477-480.) who praises the fact that the authors apply "a sociologically based criminology to genocide scholarship... and impressively link empirical social science with the jurisprudence of genocide." He highlights several key contributions, but particularly notes the merit of their "theory of offending" in genocide, which he summarizes in the following way:

A nutshell version highlights the knowledge-related factors: precipitating conditions, especially (1) land competition and supremacist ideology produce Arab versus Black identities (or socially constructed racial groups) and thereby provide a vocabulary of motives and neutralization; they motivate (2) individualized racial intent (‘race’ as a vocabulary o motive) further promoted by field commanders with high levels of ‘social efficacy’ (as Ross Matsueda puts it) and ties to (and support from) the Sudanese government; and lead, via (3) frenzied collective action in which the yelling of racial epithets produces collectivized racial intent at the meso-level, back to (4) the macro-level with its patterns of a genocidal state as an endogenous system (that is, not explained by long-standing hatred or a defensive reaction to insurgency). (p 478)

The next review comes from Bruce Hoffman, the well-known scholar on extremism and international security (Mobilizing criminology: The boundaries of criminological science and the politics of genocide, Theoretical Criminology 2009 13: 481-485.). Hoffman describes how the book's authors use and discuss the 2004 Atrocities Documentation Survey (ADS) as an empirical basis for their arguments. The ADS was a study of 1136 Darfur refugees in UN Displacement Camps, commissioned by US Secretary of State Colin Powell to document the nature and scope of the Darfur atrocities and whether these atrocities should be characterized as a genocide. Hoffman comments specifically on their use of ADS data to derive mortality estimates, and its comparison to estimates from public health surveys :

The authors argue that the survey reflects a ‘criminological’ approach, not a ‘public health’ approach, to violence: unlike public health surveys that primarily emphasize mortality within displacement camps due to disease and living conditions, criminological surveys incorporate full measures of the violence that caused individuals to become refugees. The two methodological approaches reflect contrasting political stances toward humanitarian intervention. Public health approaches refer to displacement as ‘complex humanitarian emergencies’, a term that conceals and neutralizes responsibility for mass violence but facilitates humanitarian access to refugees. Criminological approaches, in contrast, seek to advance a human rights perspective by investigating violence as crime, potentially resulting in decreased access for aid organizations. (p. 483)

The next review by Hadar Aviram, titled: Mass atrocity and criminology (Theoretical Criminology 2009 13: 487-493.) offers an over-arching critique, but also highlights a potentially intriguing facet of the book; how it explicates the role of dehumanization in genocidal crimes:

Hagan and Rymond-Richmond also emphasize, through shocking and heartbreaking interview quotes, another dimension of the Darfur horror: the vicious, dehumanizing animus behind the attacks (Ch. 1 and p. 119). This raises the important question of the uniqueness of genocide. Dehumanization of the victim has been acknowledged as a feature that accompanies much ‘regular’ crime, not even just violent crime; it is not a phenomenon unique to genocidal settings, but in this latter context it manifests itself in a particularly chilling way. (p.490)

Next up, Ross L. Matsueda (Toward a new criminology of genocide: theory, method, and politics, Theoretical Criminology 2009 13: 495-502.) offers support for the discipline of Criminology to turn its attention to the crimes of genocide, but thinks its should perhaps focus more on legal remedies and responses. He also offers some additional theories or viewpoints that might guide the author's sociologically-driven analysis.

Hagan and Rymond-Richmond have convincingly argued for a new criminology of genocide and have provided an exemplary empirical study for the new enterprise. They have shown that, for genocide, it is not enough to examine social disorganization (weak organization against crime), but rather, attention must be paid to organization in favor of crime, as it dynamically unfolds through collective action. Such action is intertwined with conventional organization in complex, historically specific ways. But the criminology of genocide must go further and critically evaluate the limitations of legal responses to genocide, examine the politics behind definitions of genocide, and demystify the political dynamics in which economically dominant nation-states at times seek to manipulate international legal institutions and principles so that their parochial interests are portrayed as the interests of all. (p. 500)

Finally, the book's authors, John Hagan and Wenona Rymond-Richmond respond to and comment on the four reviews (Criminology confronts genocide: whose side are you on?
Theoretical Criminology 2009 13: 503-511.). They begin with the general assertion that "it's about time" criminology invested in the study of genocide.

It took criminology a long time to address some of its most important topics, for example, white-collar crime. It took criminology even longer to confront its more deadly neglected topics, namely genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Yet as we begin to study genocide it rapidly becomes apparent that our discipline brings a rich array of theories and methods to this crucial task. (p. 503)

They go one to address the critical objections and suggestions raised by each of the reviewers, including some concerns about how and the extent to which they focus on "race" in their analyses.

Race is a complex social construction and there is good reason to ask whether its role in our analysis is essential, or alternatively whether we might assign race too much importance when a discussion of ethnicity instead might better suffice. Matsueda and Hoffman point to the complexity of racial conflicts and Aviram suggests the nuance and legal advantage of a focus on ethnicity, while Savelsberg reminds us that the way we apply a concept such as race in the social and legal analysis of genocide can have profound implications for the collective memory of groups involved in the conflict. (p.506)

They also acknowledge how focusing on race and focusing on ethnicity can have different implications for analyzing genocide:

We also think it is important to consider the contrasting implications of applying the concepts of ethnicity and race in Darfur. The concept of ethnicity tends to be more pluralistic than the binary construction of race, while ethnicity also incorporates more self-imposed as contrasted with other-imposed designations than race. The concept of ethnicity therefore can be more complex and subjective in its understanding, while conceptions of race can be more rigidly and narrowly socially constructed. However, we argue that it is precisely the simplification, rigidity, and narrowness involved in deadly applications of social constructions of race during mass atrocity that can be especially important in explaining the resulting genocide, and we argue this can be especially well demonstrated using the Chad survey of Darfur’s refugees – a historic survey of genocide as it happened in ‘real time’ in Africa. (p.506-507)

They conclude with the following:

Criminology should not wait to confront genocide in the full depth and breadth of all its scholarly, legal, and moral dimensions. (p.510)

Genocide, of course, is only one of the potential areas of security-related scholarship that might benefit from criminology's attention. Another article in the same issue of the Journal deals with the issue of torture and coercive interrogation (Michael Welch, American ‘pain-ology’ in the war on terror: a critique of ‘scientific’ torture , Theoretical Criminology 2009 13: 451-474). Though the principal aim of that article is to debunk and critique the use of social and behavioral science research to justify these coercive techniques, the most comprehensive analysis of that research literature to date (Educing Information: Interrogation: Science and Art -Foundations for the Future) is not even cited and only cursorily mentioned once as an aside.

Criminology does, indeed, have much to offer to understanding and addressing National/International Security issues. It is encouraging to see some of them beginning to be addressed in the pages of its peer-reviewed journals.

ResearchBlogging.orgRafter, N. (2009). Darfur and the Crime of Genocide by John Hagan and Wenona Rymond-Richmond: a symposium: Introduction Theoretical Criminology, 13 (4), 475-475 DOI: 10.1177/1362480609345440