Genocide as social death: A comparative conceptual analysis


  • Bojan Žalec University of Ljubljana


genocide, targets of genocide, social death, ethnic cleansing, mass rapes, Claudia Card


This article explains the concept of genocide by means of the concept of social death. Its central findings are that genocide is an extreme form of social death; the intentional causing of social death is the central evil of genocide; social death is what distinguishes genocide from mass killings; the physical killing of the members of the target groups is not essential for genocide; there are more sophisticated forms of genocide by which the members of the target groups are not killed physically, but instead “only” particular ties, relationships and social structures, which are of vital importance for the survival of the target groups as such, are destroyed. This article also explains what kind of groups are targets of genocide, the claim that genocide is an ethically laden concept, and some implications of this fact. On this basis, it provides a comparative analysis of some phenomena closely connected with genocide: crimes against humanity, totalitarianism, terrorism and ethnic cleansing. It reflects also upon the genocidal effects of military mass rapes. What is genocide? is a crucial question. Consequently, sharpening our minds for the recognition of genocide, including by providing an adequate definition that is appropriately tested, is a vital task. Providing such a definition is the main aim of this article.