Barbaric Civilization

Barbaric Civilization: A Critical Sociology of Genocide

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Barbaric Civilization
    Book Description:

    From its beginnings in the early twelfth century, the Western civilizing process has involved two interconnected transformations: the monopolization of military force by sovereign states and the cultivation in individuals of habits and dispositions of the kind that we call "civilized." The combined forward movement of these processes channels violent struggles for social dominance into symbolic performances. But even as the civilizing process frees many subjects from the threat of direct physical force, violence accumulates behind the scenes and at the margins of the social order, kept there by a deeply habituated performance of dominance and subordination called deferentiation. When deferentiation fails, difference becomes dangerous and genocide becomes possible. Connecting historical developments with everyday life occurrences, and discussing examples ranging from thirteenth-century Languedoc to 1994 Rwanda, Powell offers an original framework for analyzing, comparing, and discussing genocides as variable outcomes of a common underlying social system, raising unsettling questions about the contradictions of Western civilization and the possibility of a world without genocide.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8556-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-20)

    This book investigates how civilization produces genocides. More specifically, it explains how genocides can result from the normal functioning of Western civilization. Not every genocide has resulted from Western civilization, nor is this civilization unique in producing genocides. But when a genocide happens within the ambit of Western civilization, a close inspection of the institutions of our civilization that regulate the use of violence in social life often shows that these institutions did not fail but functioned normally and that in functioning normally they engendered the very thing we might want and expect them to prevent.

    I would like to...

    • 1 A Critical Sociology of Genocide
      (pp. 23-57)

      In 1999 the clothing retail chain The Gap ran a series of television advertisements for its new line of khaki pants. The ads showed a multiracial ensemble of mostly young women and men joyously dancing to swing jazz against a white background while wearing Gap khakis. At the end of each spot, the caption would appear: “Everybody in Khakis.” At that time, The Gap was a focus of concern for activists as one of several popular clothing retailers that sold clothes made in sweatshops by workers, mostly women, who were required to labour long hours under dangerous and unhealthy conditions,...

    • 2 Identifying Genocide
      (pp. 58-84)

      What is genocide? This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. There is an official definition, set out in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG). But almost every author who writes about genocide also offers his or her own definition, and these differ substantially from the UNCG and from one another. These definitions place varying emphasis on the importance of single factors like mass killing, state complicity, the noncombatant status of victims, or the overt intentions of the perpetrator. On top of this, there are a number of variant, or...

    • 3 Closing the Theory Gap in the Sociology of Genocide
      (pp. 85-125)

      In 1990 the American sociologist Helen Fein claimed that a “sociological theory gap” separated the study of genocide from the interests of other sociologists: “No stream of sociology or major theorist since 1945 has considered genocide focally, either to explain genocide or to consider its implications for theories of the state, of development, and of community and society” (Fein 1993, 32).¹ Writing in 1989, Zygmunt Bauman, inModernity and the Holocaust, had made a similar assertion: “the Holocaust has more to say about the state of sociology than sociology in its present shape is able to add to our knowledge...

    • 4 Civilizing Genocides and Barbaric Civilization
      (pp. 126-162)

      In this chapter, I argue that there are such things as “civilizing genocides” – that is, genocides produced through the advance of Western civilization itself – and that these have been so integral to our civilization that we should stop thinking of civilization as an unproblematic good and start thinking of it as fundamentally contradictory: not as “civilization” but as “barbaric civilization.” This is a large claim, so before making it, I should pause to review the claims that I have made so far, claims that I hope have brought the reader to a point of readiness to take this next and...

    • 5 Genocides of Ideological Others in Languedoc and Guatemala
      (pp. 165-200)

      The next three chapters illustrate the uses of the theoretical framework I have developed by applying it to a series of historical examples drawn from the course of the expansion of Western civilization. Each chapter considers a pair of examples linked by a common structural factor. This chapter analyzes two instances in which state authorities, goaded and supported by a transnational power, used massacre, execution, torture, and other instruments of political terror to destroy a network of people defined by their actual or supposed opposition to the dominant ideology of their society. These instances are the extermination of the Cathars...

    • 6 Genocides of Colonized Others in Tasmania and India
      (pp. 201-245)

      The two historical episodes in this chapter offer contrasting examples of British colonialism turned genocidal. The first concerns the almost total annihilation of Aboriginal Tasmanian culture and lineage over the course of the nineteenth century. Initially through sporadic acts of theft, rape, and murder, then through territorial dispossession and an increasingly organized settler war, and finally through internment in inhospitable conditions, British colonists in Tasmania reduced the precolonial Indigenous population from about five thousand to almost nothing; the only survivors were descendants of Tasmanian women who had married European men. Just as the genocide of the Tasmanians wound down to...

    • 7 Genocides of National Others in the Ottoman Empire and Rwanda
      (pp. 246-300)

      This chapter examines two examples of genocide that appear in most anthologies of the subject and that fit comfortably into the notion of genocide as “events like the Nazi holocaust”: mass murders of racial or ethnic minorities by authoritarian governments. These events also illustrate the contradictory quality of the civilizing process, which produces both genocidal and antigenocidal forces. The destruction of the Ottoman Armenian community inspired Raphaël Lemkin to submit to the International Conference for the Unification of Criminal Law, in Madrid in 1933, a proposal “to declare the destruction of racial, religious, or social collectivities a crime under the...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 301-310)

    The advantage of a radical systemic explanation of genocide is that it explains, without recourse to moralizing homilies about human nature, why genocide is so widespread and why it can coalesce out of a seemingly normal society like a summer thunderstorm out of a clear blue sky. One disadvantage with this way of explaining, as of all structural explanations of pernicious phenomena, is that the task of change can seem impossibly discouraging. If the possibility of genocide lies implicit in the very order of things, we would seem fated to endure this possibility, for who has the strength to overturn...

  8. Appendix: Definitions of Genocide
    (pp. 311-320)
  9. References
    (pp. 321-346)
  10. Index
    (pp. 347-356)