War, Atrocity and Genocide - SO710

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Spring
View Timetable
6 15 (7.5)




Third year students only.



This is an interdisciplinary module on war, atrocity and genocide. Drawing on a range of sources from military history, social psychology, sociology, criminology, political ethics and political history, it is concerned to explore the following questions: What is war and why is it a matter of criminological and sociological interest? What are the defining experiences and emotions associated with war and genocide? How is killing in war framed or ‘constructed’ in the minds of those who kill? What is mass killing/genocide and how is it accomplished and facilitated in war? Why is rape used so widely as a weapon in conflict situations and what is its lasting impact? What is genocide and how should it best be understood? How are atrocities in war denied, excused or rationalized? The aim of the module is to provide a framework for thinking about (1) the phenomenology of killing in war; (2) the conditions which facilitate genocide and mass killing at the state and sub state level; and (3) the ways in which perpetrators of mass killing, their apologists and distant others contrive to deny, rationalize or legitimize mass killing/genocide


This module appears in:

Contact hours

21 hours - 11 hours of lectures, 10 hours of seminars (no seminars in week 1 or reading week


Available 2016/17

Method of assessment

100% coursework (one 3000 word essay (70%) and one 1500 word book review (30%))

Indicative reading

Arendt, Hannah (1963) Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Viking Press).
Bauman, Zygmunt (1989) Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press).
Baumeister, Roy F. (1997) Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty (New York: Henry Holt).

Bourke, Joanna (1999) An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth Century Warfare (New York: Basic Books).
Bourke, Joanna (2008) Rape: A History from 1860 to the Present (London: Virago).
Browning, Christopher R. (1992) Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: HarperCollins).
Caputo, Philip (1977) A Rumor of War (London: Pimlico).
Cohen, Stanley (2001) States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering (Cambridge: Polity Press).
Collins, Randall (2008) Violence: A Micro-Sociological Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
Ferguson, Niall (1998) The Pity of War (London: Penguin).
Geras, Norman (1998) The Contract of Mutual Indifference: Political Philosophy after the Holocaust. (London: Verso).

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

Appreciation of the foreground phenomenological dynamics of war and genocide
Systematic understanding of key aspects of the role of emotions in killing in war and genocidal events, including being able to utilise this knowledge in verbal and written discussion.
Understanding of the range of interpretive mechanisms for denying, minimising, excusing or justifying mass atrocities, including being able to describe and comment upon particular aspects of current research, or equivalent advanced scholarship, in this field.
Understanding and being able to critically evaluate key perspectives on organised mass atrocity/killing and the socio-cultural conditions which facilitate it.

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