International Relations Genocide
Jens Meierhenrich
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0074


Genocide is a phenomenon that has confounded scholars and practitioners as well as ordinary readers. Notwithstanding the carnage of the 20th century, our understanding of genocide remains partial, not least because vocational, disciplinary, and methodological boundaries have inhibited intellectual progress. Popular, moralizing accounts about the contribution of “willing executioners” (Daniel Jonah Goldhagen) to the “problem from hell” (Samantha Power) have done their share to hinder understanding by advancing simple truths in an area where none are to be had. The goal of this bibliography is to deepen and broaden the intellectual foundations of genocide studies. Aimed primarily at scholars and students in the humanities and social sciences as well as general readers with an interest in collective violence, it is designed as an introduction to the myriad dimensions of this darkest of human phenomena, and to various ways of making sense of it—from autobiography to game theory. The collected contributions address—in widely divergent ways—fundamental questions in genocide studies: Whither conventional definitions of genocide? What role for alternative concepts? How powerful are existing theories of genocide? What role for memoirs, case studies, formal models, and data sets? Where have preventive efforts failed, where have they succeeded? Can genocide be predicted and prevented? To acquaint readers with the complexity of genocide—and outer boundaries of genocide studies—the bulk of this bibliography is organized around nine instantly recognizable themes that are central to study of the phenomenon: concepts: what is genocide?; causes: why does genocide occur?; courses: how does genocide unfold?; coverage: when is genocide reported?; consequences: what happens after genocide?; courts: who puts genocide on trial?; coping: can one come to terms with genocide?; compensation: who makes amends for genocide?; and cures: what can be done about genocide? Taken together, the aforementioned themes represent the phenomenon of genocide in all its complexity, drawing readers’ attention not only to contending explanations of genocidal campaigns (causes), but also to frequently overlooked differences in the conduct of these campaigns (courses) as well as to legal responses to the destruction, in whole or in part, of protected groups (courts). Moreover, the individual and social suffering of victims (consequences and coping) is a central concern, as is the ongoing debate over genocide forecasting and prevention (cures).

General Overviews

Learned, general overviews of genocide are not as readily available as one might think. Jones 2010 serves as an introductory text. Bloxham and Moses 2010 is a state-of-the-art assessment of the discipline. The contributions, including Levene 2005, Semelin 2007, and Shaw 2007, are meant for scholars and advanced students. Leading histories of genocide are Kiernan 2007 and Weitz 2003.

  • Bloxham, Donald, and A. Dirk Moses, eds. Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    Provides an overview of the emerging “field” of genocide studies in all of its permutations. Essays address substantive as well as methodological issues.

  • Jones, Adam. Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2010.

    Until recently, this was the only introductory text available. It offers a solid, if lengthy, overview of the study of genocide.

  • Kiernan, Ben. Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.

    A detailed narrative of genocide from ancient to modern times, written by a leading historian of genocide. The treatment of cases is broad rather than deep.

  • Levene, Mark. Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State. 2 vols. London: I. B. Tauris, 2005.

    An ambitious multivolume work, the first two volumes of which are available to date. Far ranging in scope, it combines theoretical and empirical perspectives in a unique fashion. A particular focus is on the role of international system-level dynamics, including state formation and economic development, in the causation of genocidal violence.

  • Semelin, Jacques. Purify and Destroy: The Political Uses of Massacre and Genocide. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

    An influential, synthetic account by a French political scientist. At the heart of this comprehensive treatment is Semelin’s notion of “delusional rationality,” which he explores in the context of numerous empirical settings.

  • Shaw, Martin. What Is Genocide? Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2007.

    Written by a social scientist, this concise book offers a theory-driven account of genocide. En passant, Shaw takes issue with conventional wisdom in genocide studies.

  • Weitz, Eric D. A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

    A compelling and eloquent narrative of four major genocidal campaigns (Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Cambodia, and Bosnia), by a leading historian of Germany. As the title suggests, Weitz is primarily concerned with the role of ideational factors as causes of genocide.

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