The theory and prevention of genocide.
Holocaust and genocide studies 1991; 6(2): 185-99
The development of a social-scientific theory of genocide has been neglected by most social scientists, viewed with suspicion by several Holocaust scholars, and advanced in a fragmentary and confused manner by those few scholars who have committed themselves to this task. This paper attempts to clarify the problems which confront those attempting a social theory of genocide and proposes solutions which, while recognising a necessary pluralism in social science methodology, seek to clear the way for the advance of theory construction. A theoretical account of genocide is proposed which draws on work in the social sciences and in genocide studies. It is argued that this account provides the grounds for cautious optimism about the development of a theory of genocide. A precondition for the fulfilment of this optimism is the abandonment by both opponents and advocates of social-scientific approaches to the understanding of genocide of the outdated assumption that social science must be informed by a positivist philosophy. The project of preventing genocide should not rest upon positivist illusions which are incompatible with the conception of moral agency which we must employ both in our ethical judgments and in our social-scientific understanding of genocidal evil.
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