The Contribution of Social Movement Theory to Understanding Genocide

Evidence from Rwanda

in Contention
Author: Aliza Luft 1
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  • 1 UCLA
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Abstract

Recent years have witnessed a turn in the field of contentious politics toward the study of political violence, yet scholars have yet to focus their lens on genocide. Moreover, research on genocide is characterized by fundamental disagreements about its definition, origins, and dynamics, leading to a lack of generalizable theory. As a remedy, this article suggests that research on genocide can be improved by incorporating concepts from social movements. After reviewing the history of research on social movements and genocide, I analyze civilian participation in the Rwandan genocide as an example of how social movement theory helps explain civilian mobilization for genocide. Finally, I propose that a contentious politics approach to genocide would consider it one among many forms of contentious collective action, analyzable within the existing framework of social movement theory.

Contributor Notes

Aliza Luft is assistant professor of sociology at UCLA. Her research examines how formal institutions, social affiliations, and individual desires interact and change to shape decision-making about violence. You can learn more about her work at www.alizaluft.com

Contention

The Multidisciplinary Journal of Social Protest

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  • Viterna, Jocelyn S. 2006. “Pulled, Pushed, and Persuaded: Explaining Women's Mobilization into the Salvadoran Guerilla Army.” American Journal of Sociology 112(1): 145. doi:10.1086/502690.

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