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Genocide as Social Practice

Genocide as Social Practice: Reorganizing Society under the Nazis and Argentina's Military Juntas

Translated by Douglas Andrew Town
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    Genocide as Social Practice
    Book Description:

    Genocide not only annihilates people but also destroys and reorganizes social relations, using terror as a method. InGenocide as Social Practice, social scientist Daniel Feierstein looks at the policies of state-sponsored repression pursued by the Argentine military dictatorship against political opponents between 1976 and 1983 and those pursued by the Third Reich between 1933 and 1945. He finds similarities, not in the extent of the horror but in terms of the goals of the perpetrators.The Nazis resorted to ruthless methods in part to stifle dissent but even more importantly to reorganize German society into aVolksgemeinschaft, or people's community, in which racial solidarity would supposedly replace class struggle. The situation in Argentina echoes this. After seizing power in 1976, the Argentine military described its own program of forced disappearances, torture, and murder as a "process of national reorganization" aimed at remodeling society on "Western and Christian" lines.For Feierstein, genocide can be considered a technology of power-a form of social engineering-that creates, destroys, or reorganizes relationships within a given society. It influences the ways in which different social groups construct their identity and the identity of others, thus shaping the way that groups interrelate. Feierstein establishes continuity between the "reorganizing genocide" first practiced by the Nazis in concentration camps and the more complex version-complex in terms of the symbolic and material closure of social relationships -later applied in Argentina. In conclusion, he speculates on how to construct a political culture capable of confronting and resisting these trends.First published in Argentina, in Spanish,Genocide as Social Practicehas since been translated into many languages, now including this English edition. The book provides a distinctive and valuable look at genocide through the lens of Latin America as well as Europe.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6319-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Alexander Laban Hinton

    In recent years, the field of genocide studies has begun a critical reassessment. As this process has taken place, concepts and cases, old and new, have come into dialogue and important conversations and debates have begun. Several of these discussions emerge in Daniel Feierstein’sGenocide as Social Practice: Reorganizing Society under the Nazis and Argentina’s Military Juntas, which constitutes a key contribution to this turn in our understanding of genocide.

    The title highlights the book’s challenge. Genocide, it tells us, may centrally involve not just the mass destruction of a group of marginalized “others,” as conventional understandings hold, but a...

    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Bridging the Gap between Two Genocides
    (pp. 1-8)

    The starting point for this book arose from my intuition two decades ago that the policies pursued by the Argentine military dictatorship against political opponents and dissidents between 1976 and 1983 had important similarities to those pursued by the Third Reich, particularly before but even during World War II, despite the huge differences in the number of victims and historical contexts. The Nazis had resorted to ruthless methods not only to stifle dissent but—more importantly—to reorganize German society into aVolksgemeinschaft, or people’s community, in which racial solidarity would supposedly replace class struggle. It was no coincidence that...

  6. PART ONE Some Theoretical Questions

    • 1 Defining the Concept of Genocide
      (pp. 11-38)

      The annihilation of population masses is an age-old phenomenon. The destruction of Troy by the Greeks, the razing of Carthage by the Romans, and the atrocities of the Mongols under Genghis Khan are just a few examples that can be found in any history book. Genocide, on the other hand, is a distinctly modern concept. The term “genocide” was first used by the Polish-Jewish legal scholar Raphael Lemkin at a conference in Madrid in 1933, but a legal definition of genocide was not incorporated into international law until 1948, following the programs of mass murder carried out by the Nazis...

    • 2 Toward a Typology of Genocidal Social Practices
      (pp. 39-51)

      Many writers have sought to define the essential features of the Nazi genocide. Rather fewer have attempted to understand how genocidal social practices have varied across different societies during the twentieth century. Fewer still have moved beyond comparative analyses of this sort to consider genocidal social practices as a social process—in other words, asa sequence of social changesaccompanied bypredictablechanges in social relations, attitudes, and values, albeit with distinctive local variations.

      In fact, in the sixty years following Raphael Lemkin’s pioneering study in 1944, only eight authors presented any new classifications of genocide: Frank Chalk and...

    • 3 Reconciling the Contradictions of Modernity: Equality, Sovereignty, Autonomy, and Genocidal Social Practices
      (pp. 52-68)

      In recent years a growing body of literature across various disciplines has been concerned with the concept of modernity. Writers in areas as diverse as law, history, sociology, philosophy, aesthetics, and design now routinely use it—often in quite different and even contradictory ways. For the purposes of this discussion, modernity means a power system together with a set of specific practices (whose precise details vary according to historical context) for destroying and reconstructing social relations. However, even in this restricted sense, modernity is still a broad enough notion to have different (and even contradictory) manifestations. These practices, or “diagrams...

  7. PART TWO Historical Foundations:: The Nazi Genocide

    • 4 Discourse and Politics in Holocaust Studies: Uniqueness, Comparability, and Narration
      (pp. 71-86)

      Before considering different theoretical explanations of the Holocaust, we need to examine the various discourses that have grown up over the years as writers have attempted to get closer to their subject matter. Because the destruction of European Jews involved a radical break with previous social practices, social relations, and methods of killing, we also need to understand the material and symbolic implications inherent in different ways of “representing” the Holocaust.

      The first historical accounts written after World War II were concerned with how the Holocaust fitted—or did not fit—into the past and future of German and European...

    • 5 The Problem of Explaining the Causes of the Nazi Genocides
      (pp. 87-103)

      Comparative analysis does not exempt scholars from trying to understand the causes of the Nazi genocides and the conditions that made them possible. On the contrary, without such an understanding, they would find it impossible to establish the structural similarities and differences between these and other genocidal processes—or to know whether two events were comparable at all.

      This chapter examines some of the many social science perspectives that provide causal models for understanding the Nazi genocide. However, this examination is simply a “contribution” (as Ian Kershaw would say) to understanding a phenomenon of almost unimaginable scope and complexity.


    • 6 Reshaping Social Relations through Genocide
      (pp. 104-128)

      After examining some basic approaches to the Nazi genocides, in this chapter I will offer a six-stage model of genocidal social practices, emphasizing their ability to construct, destroy, and reorganize the social fabric. This is not a historical timeline of the Holocaust, of which there have been many, nor does it attempt to analyze the successive vagaries of Nazi ideology. Rather than a succession of important events, it treats the Nazi genocides as a series of interrelated and overlapping processes.

      My aim here is to highlight the progression of events necessary for implementing such a phenomenon of mass destruction, a...

  8. PART THREE Toward a Historical Basis:: Genocidal Social Practices in Argentina

    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 129-130)

      International recognition of the importance of the Nazi genocides has given rise to a rich and complex literature attempting to explain the causes of these crimes or to choose between alternative explanations as to why they happened. As we have seen, different theories have been proposed at different times and in different parts of the world–even though some commentators reject the possibility of finding any rational explanation whatsoever. In chapters 4 and 5 I examined just a small selection of this vast literature and–because of the sociological focus of this book–the emphasis was mostly on the sociology...

    • 7 Explaining Genocidal Social Practices in Argentina: The Problem of Causation
      (pp. 131-160)

      It is difficult to find authors who provide a comprehensive meaning to the events that occurred in Argentina during the military dictatorship of 1976 to 1983. Nevertheless, both during the dictatorship and since it ended nearly thirty years ago, there have been several more or less explicit attempts by politicians, journalists, and academics to make sense of what happened through—sometimes intuitive—causal models. For the sake of brevity, these events will be treated here as genocidal social practices despite possible objections to the term “genocide,” which I have already discussed in previous chapters.

      Although this chapter sets out to...

    • 8 Toward a Periodization of Genocide in Argentina
      (pp. 161-185)

      one of the central arguments of this book is that genocidal social practices have underpinned the exercise of power in the modern period. This chapter suggests how the periodization of genocidal social practices developed in previous chapters can be applied in the case of Argentina, as well as pointing out the main similarities and differences between Argentina’s military repression and genocidal processes elsewhere.²

      If we remember that the first stage of genocide is constructing a “negative Other,” the central question in each case must be: What exactly was the model of Otherness, and how did it function? In the case...

    • 9 Concentration Camp Logic
      (pp. 186-204)

      As we have seen in previous chapters, the Nazis not only created a new type of genocide—what I call “reorganizing genocide”; they also used various methods to kill their victims, including shootings, gassings, death marches, starvation, and disease. One of the distinctive features of the Nazi genocides was the use of concentration camps as tools of oppression and mass extermination. On the other hand, the Argentine genocide—although much smaller in scale—can be thought of as one of the most successful and cost-effective instances of “reorganizing genocide” in terms of destroying and rebuilding the social fabric. An interesting...

    • 10 In Conclusion: The Uses of Memory
      (pp. 205-214)

      One of the main arguments running through this book has been that genocidal social practices are not simply an irrational descent into barbarism fueled by hatred and prejudice, nor are they exceptional phenomena. On the contrary, they are a specific technology of power for destroying and reorganizing social relations that has played a crucial and well-defined role at different moments in history.

      The ancient world practiced “pre-stategenocide” to annihilate enemy populations. The modern world created a new social order known as the nation-state through “constituentgenocides” and then used “colonialgenocides” to annex and plunder territories overseas. Later, struggles...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 215-250)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 251-260)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 261-262)