Skip to main content

Unit information: Understanding Genocide in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Understanding Genocide
Unit code SPAI30018
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Michel
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

This unit critically analyses the different approaches to explaining, understanding and dealing with the phenomenon of genocide. The first part of the unit will engage with different explanatory accounts drawing on a variety of academic disciplines. It then moves on to empirical cases in order to assess the validity and rigour of these approaches before concluding with an assessment of the different methods the international community uses to proactively or reactively address genocide. It will thereby cover questions relating to political, moral and legal responsibility as well as concepts for reconciliation. Aims: The unit aims to:

  • introduce students to the field of genocide studies from a conceptual as well as empirical perspective.
  • provide a clear understanding of the different ways in which genocide has been addressed and understood.
  • critically assess different approaches by relating them to a number of empirical cases. These cases will be selected from different regions (Europe, Asia, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa) to avoid narrow contextual representation.
  • provide deeper knowledge about the political processes that led to these instances of genocide and apply the conceptual and explanatory background developed at the beginning of the unit to evaluate and critically analyse the selected cases. In order to do so the unit will not just draw on historical accounts but also use accounts given by victims and perpetrators.
  • provide insights into different paths in which the international community has set out to deal with the problem of genocide in political, normative and legal ways.
  • enable students to assess the difficulties connected to questions of responsibility and the limits of political action in respect to political mass death.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a wide and intricate knowledge of the varying approaches to understanding the causes of genocide.
  • Offer a detailed understanding of the complexity of empirical cases to build a foundation on which to assess the different explanatory approaches.
  • critically engage with the different ways in which the international community has tried to deal with the aftermath of genocides.

Teaching Information

One hour lecture and two hour seminar per week

Assessment Information

750 word proposal (formative)

3000 word research paper (summative, 100%)

Both assessments assess all of the intended learning outcomes.

Reading and References

  • Ben Kiernan, Blood and Soil. A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.
  • Benjamin Valentino, Final Solutions. Mass Killing and Genocide in the 20th Century, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004.
  • Jean Hatzfeld, A Time for Machetes. The Rwandan Genocide: The Killers Speak, London: Serpent’s Tail, 2008.
  • Jacques Semelin, Purify and Destroy: the political uses of massacre and genocide, London: Hurst and Company, 2007
  • Mark Levene, The meaning of genocide, London: I.B. Tauris, 2005.
  • Adam Jones, Genocide. A comprehensive introduction, London: Routledge, 2010.