Center hosts panel on new directions in Genocide Studies

The Center for Human Rights and International Justice recently hosted a discussion entitled “New Directions in Genocide Studies,” which featured three scholars contributing to intellectual innovation in the field of genocide studies. 

CISAC Cyber-Security Fellow Rhiannon Neilsen joined Scott Straus, Professor of Political Science at UC Berkeley, and Norman Naimark, the Robert and Florence McDonnell Chair in East European History at Stanford, in the panel moderated by David Cohen, Faculty Co-Director of the Stanford Center for Human Rights and International Justice. While the panel addressed a range of genocide studies topics, each presentation reflected the Center’s longstanding commitment to scholarship on mass atrocities prevention and transitional justice. 

Dr. Neilsen presented findings from her ongoing project, ‘Algorithms for Atrocity Prevention,’ which examines the possibility of ‘cyber-humanitarian interventions’ to protect vulnerable populations from genocide and ethnic cleansing. Discussing mass atrocities in the internet age, Dr. Neilsen argued for the mobilization of new information technology in order to disrupt the online organizing mechanisms employed by genocidal actors. While such technological tools present potential for abuse, Dr. Neilsen identified several strategies for averting mass atrocities using the powers of social media and computing software. Beyond financial interference and misinformation regulation, Dr. Neilsen stressed the salient role targeted educational campaigns could play in combating the spread of genocidal sentiment in vulnerable locales. 

Dr. Straus addressed some early points of interest from his research on comparative radicalization and genocidal escalation. With special emphasis on the practical concern of forecasting mass atrocities, Dr. Straus complicated the traditional ‘top-down’ model of genocide which arose in post-Holocaust public consciousness. Dr. Straus’s work contends that a ‘from below’ model of genocide offers empirical value for understanding local and national actors’ roles in fomenting supralocal mass violence. After demonstratively applying his ‘from below’ model to the Rwandan genocide, Dr. Straus expressed content with the number of similarly novel scholarly methods advancing contemporary genocide studies. 

To conclude the panel, Dr. Naimark shared a chapter-by-chapter overview of his upcoming book, Why Genocide? Having written extensively on genocide in Stalin’s Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia, Dr. Naimark’s work aims to understand the near ubiquitous presence of genocide throughout world history. Discussing subtopics as disparate as gendered violence and the international system, Dr. Naimark provided a brief but expansive look at his own conception of genocide and its eliminationist logic. With Why Genocide? still a work-in-progress, Dr. Naimark seeks constructive feedback on this latest addition to his impressive corpus of genocide studies literature. 

In the subsequent question and answer period, the three scholars accentuated the necessity of understanding these new research pathways within genocide studies in tandem. Dr. Straus specifically noted the possibility of merging Dr. Neilsen’s internet-oriented research with his own on radicalization. With the hope of promoting this intersectional approach to genocide studies scholarship, the Center for Human Rights and International Justice will continue to provide fora for pioneering human rights academics to convene.