Criminology The Criminology of Genocide
Wenona Rymond-Richmond
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0159


Genocide, often referred to as the “crime of crimes,” has produced hundreds of millions of murdered, raped, sexually assaulted, forcibly displaced, kidnapped, mutilated, and robbed victims. While criminologists are dedicated to explaining these types of crimes and social group conflict more broadly, they typically apply these crimes to interpersonal and intranational criminal acts of violence. As a result, criminologists have failed to incorporate genocide adequately into their research agendas leaving the “crime of crimes” neglected and undertheorized by the discipline. There are notable exceptions, including critical criminologists who frequent condemn mainstream criminology for not considering the role of the state as a criminal actor. Furthermore, recent publications by criminologists that focus on the genocide in Darfur and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda offer hope that historical neglect is declining. Nonetheless, criminology has been slow moving and nearly silent toward incorporating genocide within its disciplinary boundaries. Criminologists possess the theories and methods necessary to make valuable contributions to documenting, describing, and explaining “the crime of crimes” and to understanding the consequences of genocidal victimization.

General Overviews

While the existing literature on genocide by criminologists is sparse, recent publications including Alvarez 2009, Hagan and Rymond-Richmond 2009, and Savelsberg 2010 signal a potential disciplinary change. Alvarez 2009 provides an overview of the central elements of the crime of genocide. Hagan and Rymond-Richmond 2009 describes how anti-Semitism and a reluctance to examine the United States’ genocidal origins may have contributed to the marginalization of criminological research on genocide. Savelsberg and King 2011 examines how the United States remembers its role in genocides and mass atrocities within the United States and beyond. Hagan and Rymond-Richmond 2009 develops a theory of genocide that links macro-level structural conditions with micro- and meso-level actions. Savelsberg 2010 makes a case for criminologists to be more attentive to genocide and human rights violations more broadly. Hagan and Levi 2005 discusses the creation and enforcement of international criminal tribunals as a means for responding to atrocities. Rymond-Richmond 2013 describes the methodological challenges associated with research on genocide, identifies current controversies, and suggests directions for future research. Hagan and Kaiser 2011 examines the ways in which forced displacement, like extermination by killing, can result in physical destruction. Brannigen and Hardwick 2003 and Alvarez 2009 apply criminological theories more commonly used to explain street crimes to the international crime of genocide.

  • Alvarez, Alex. 2009. Genocidal crimes. Key Ideas in Criminology. London: Routledge.

    A concise book that describes key theories developed in criminology and applies them to the crime of genocide. Because it takes a particular topic, in this case genocide, and examines it from a multitude of criminological perspectives, this book would well complement both undergraduate and graduate courses on criminology.

  • Brannigen, Augustine, and Kelly Hardwick. 2003. Genocide and general theory. In Control theories in crime and delinquency. Edited by Chester L. Britt and Michael R. Gottfredson, 109–132. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

    A chapter that examines whether Gottredson and Hirschi’s general theory of crime can be extended to shed light on the crime of genocide. This chapter provides a model for how scholars can test whether preexisting theories are applicable to the crime of genocide.

  • Hagan, John, and Joshua Kaiser. 2011. The displaced and dispossessed of Darfur: Explaining the sources of a continuing state-led genocide. British Journal of Sociology 62.1: 1–25.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2011.01357.x

    A research article that discusses forced displacement as one of the underexplored elements of genocide. Following the article are comments from leading scholars regarding the definition of genocide, documenting mortality, and the placement of genocide within the discipline of criminology.

  • Hagan, John, and Ron Levi. 2005. Crimes of war and the force of law. Social Forces 83.4: 1499–1534.

    DOI: 10.1353/sof.2005.0066

    A research article based on interviews and observations in the Office of the Prosecutor and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, in which the authors describe the history and relationship between international criminal law, international criminal tribunals, and prosecuting atrocities.

  • Hagan, John, and Wenona Rymond-Richmond. 2009. Darfur and the crime of genocide. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A book that advocates for criminologists to be more attentive to the crime of genocide; the authors provide a model for how future researchers could go about accomplishing this. The authors develop a new theory of genocide that builds upon theories and methods commonly used in criminology and sociology.

  • Rymond-Richmond, Wenona. 2013. Genocide. In Encyclopedia of criminology and criminal justice. Edited by Gerben Bruinsma and David Weisburd. New York: Springer-Verlag.

    A concise review of genocide, which includes a summary and critique of the discipline of criminology for failing to incorporate genocide into its research agenda. In addition, the article provides a comprehensive review of human rights violations that occur during genocides.

  • Savelsberg, Joachim. 2010. Crime and human rights: Criminology of genocide and atrocities. London: SAGE.

    A concise book that synthesizes human rights scholarship with criminological theory. This book could be adapted in upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses focused on genocide, human rights, and criminology.

  • Savelsberg, Joachim, and Ryan King. 2011. American memories: Atrocities and the law. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    An award-winning book that demonstrates that how states respond to an atrocity, including how they name a violent crime, has important symbolic implications and affects the collective memory of the conflict.

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