[Cross-posted from New Books in Global Conflict] What exactly is genocide? Is there a fundamental difference between episodes of genocide and how we go about our daily life? Or can it be said that the roots of the modern world, or civilization itself, has the potential to produce genocide? If the latter is true, then what does is say about us and the society we have constructed for ourselves? Christopher Powell, in his illuminating new book Barbaric Civilization: A Critical Sociology of Genocide (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011) provides new insights into these and related questions. For Powell, the idea that genocide is something that happens when civilization fails, or is something that should be understood as fundamentally different or wholly alien or outside of our day-to-day life, is suspect. Rather, he links genocide and the human potential for atrocity to civilization itself. In other words, there are clues present in the modern world, as well as the modern state structure, that can help us better understand the process of genocide and what makes atrocities possible. To understand genocide as “bad” and civilization as “good”, according to Powell, continues to confuse the issue. If civilization can produce genocide, he argues, “then civilization is not the unmitigated good that we often take it for.” The resulting book is a theoretically sophisticated journey through a difficult, and all-too-frequently, misunderstood and controversial topic. Thanks for listening.
You can find Christopher Powell’s blog here.