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Unit information: Understanding Genocide in 2020/21

Unit name Understanding Genocide
Unit code POLI20005
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
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


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.


The unit aims to:

  • introduce students to the field of genocide studies from a conceptual as well as empirical perspective.
  • introduce the main explanatory perspectives for understanding perpetrators behaviour
  • enable students to critically assess the causes of a number of empirical cases from different regions
  • enable to students to reflect upon the political, social and cultural dimensions relevant in cases of genocide
  • introduce and evaluate legal and socio-political responses to genocide

Intended learning outcomes

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

  • demonstrate a good knowledge of different approaches to understanding the causes of genocide.
  • Show a clear understanding of political, social and cultural dimensions of the empirical case.
  • Evaluate and critique the legal and social-political measures the international community has used to address issues of intervention, punishment and reconciliation in cases of genocide

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through blended learning methods, including a mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching activities

Assessment Details

1500 word essay (25%)

2500 word essay (75%)

Both assessments test all learning outcomes listed above

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.