Making and Unmaking Nations
War, Leadership and Genocide in Modern Africa
Cornell University Press 2015
New Books in African StudiesNew Books in Genocide StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Political ScienceNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network June 9, 2015 Kelly McFall
Who, in the field of genocide studies, hasn’t at least once used the phrase “The century of genocide?” Books carry the title, journalists quote it in interviews and undergrads adopt it.
There’s nothing wrong with the phrase, as far as it goes. But, as Scott Straus points out, conceptualizing the century in that way masks a fundamental truth about the period–that there were many more crises that could have led to genocide but which stopped short than there were actual genocides.
And this is a problem for the academic study of genocide. For if that discipline is at least in part attempting to understand what causes genocides and how to prevent them, ignoring the dog that didn’t bark is a serious challenge.
This is the point Straus makes in his wonderful new book Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership and Genocide in Modern Africa (Cornell University Press, 2015). A political scientist, Straus looks to address two methodological issues in understanding genocide. The first is the problem of the dog that didn’t bark. The second is the fact that genocide studies often compares genocides that occurs in dramatically different contexts and cultures.
The result is a wonderfully rich and thought-provoking study. It’s one that all genocide scholars will need to wrestle with. And, with Straus a former journalist, non-specialists will find it readable and interesting as well.