Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide

Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide

Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide

Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide


"Fresh, useful, and engaging. This timely book reflects new research and important critical perspectives on the role of social science and the response of anthropology to human suffering."--Richard Pierre Claude, Founding Editor of "Human Rights Quarterly

"Many peoples of the world, including the Mayans in Guatemala, have been devastated and destroyed by genocide. Over many years these horrors remained only in the hearts and memory of the victims. The testimonies of the survivors who had the courage to denounce these crimes are making a contribution to scientific research. In "Annihilating Difference, anthropologists grapple with an urgent public issue, taking new points of view that could help understand the magnitude of past atrocities and develop strategies to prevent future massacres in the heart of humanity."--Rigoberta Menchu Tum, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize laureate

"This volume--a collection of writings on genocide from the perspective of anthropology-seeks a deeper understanding of our era's most heinous crime. It asks not only what happened but why it happened. It seeks not simply to describe but to explain. And in offering an explanation of this horrendous social malady, it points the direction for a possible cure."--Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch, from the Foreword

"This volume ranges far and wide across centuries and cultures to present fascinating perspectives on the phenomenon of genocide. It is a new venture for anthropologists, whose insights will be useful to us all and who connect their scholarship to profound moral concerns."--Howard Zinn, author of "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train

""Annihilating Difference is an anthropologicalcollection that warrants the attention of non-anthropologists. It simultaneously adds to the growing body of knowledge about genocide and provides a revealing glimpse into what anthropologists are studying and how they are studyi


Anthropologists and human rights activists have not been natural partners. An anthropologist tends to accept a culture as it is. a human rights activist tends to identify injustices in a culture and work to change them. An anthropologist illuminates the differences among cultures. a human rights activist highlights cross-cultural commonality. An anthropologist respects a broad range of value systems that are seen as culturally variable. a human rights activist promotes a particular value system that is seen as universal.

Yet behind this tension there has always been a potential for partnership. Classic human rights advocacy depends at the outset on careful observation—on the detailed recording of the plight of particular individuals who have suffered abuse. Long gone are the days when a human rights “investigation” consisted of several prominent foreigners parachuting into a country (usually only its capital) for a quick few days of conversation with diplomats, journalists, and other elite observers. Today, as human rights organizations have grown in sophistication and rigor, an effective human rights researcher must become immersed in the country under study, speaking the language, interviewing the victims and witnesses, and becoming intimately familiar with local customs, politics, and governance.

In short, the investigative work of a human rights researcher increasingly resembles the careful fieldwork of an anthropologist. and so it should, since the tools of anthropology offer valuable assistance not only to those who seek to understand a society but also to those who hope to change it. Understanding the architecture of a society is valuable not only in its own right—as a work of anthropology—but also as a blueprint for change. It helps us identify the social pathologies that might lead to human rights abuse and the steps that can be taken to end or prevent them.

Of the many abuses that might be studied, there is none so grave as genocide. the crime that gave rise to the vow “never again” has, to humanity's great shame, reared its head again and again. What prompts a society to seek to eradicate a cat-

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