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Genocide Reconsidered: A Pragmatist Approach



The recent literature on genocide shows signs of taking what might be called a “processual turn,” with genocide increasingly understood as a contingent process rather than a singular event. But while this second generation's turn may be clear to those within the literature, the theory guiding the change is insufficiently specified. The theory regarding process and contingency is implicit, and, as such, genocide theory does not realize its full generative potential. The primary goal of this article is to provide a more robust theoretical framework for making sense of the continually evolving dimensions of genocide. It builds on the literature's existing foundations, most notably Mann's (2005) notion of “contingent escalations.” In the spirit of the recent revival of American Pragmatism in sociology, it draws on the work of Dewey, Mills, Follett, and Addams (among others) as part of a theoretical reconstruction using pragmatist concepts such as rupture, perplexity, vocabularies of motive, and experimentation to consider examples from the Rwandan genocide and show how we might explore the potential for non-teleological intentionality on the part of genocidal actors. The result is an enhanced theoretical framework that offers “fresh eyes” for considering one of the worst (and most under-theorized) social problems.