Examining Genocide

To Alex Hinton, professor of anthropology and global affairs at Rutgers–Newark, genocide should not be viewed as a horror relevant only to other cultures, other places, other peoples. As history shows, genocide can happen anywhere.

 

AT THE FOREFRONT

As the founder and director of Rutgers’ Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights, Hinton is at the forefront of research and scholarship into genocide. What are the motivations of those who participate in genocide? Why do they kill? How do people recover from genocidal atrocities? How does a society provide justice? Questions like these are at the heart of Hinton’s work, as well as the work of the center he directs.

The work of the center is helping us understand genocide—what it is, why it happens, and how we can prevent it. “Many of the processes that are taken to an extreme in genocide are manifest in our everyday lives on a much more subdued level,” says Hinton, citing bullying and stereotyping. “It’s by looking at the extremes that students come to understand their own lives differently.”

In terms of prevention, if people don’t understand about the history of genocide—about the different genocides that have occurred—there’s no hope for preventing genocide.

Professor Alex Hinton

Hinton, an expert in the Cambodia genocide of the 1970s, first traveled to Cambodia as a 28-year-old graduate student in 1992, and he continues to travel there regularly for his research. On a trip there in the fall of 2009, he witnessed the UN-backed tribunals established to try Khmer Rouge leaders accused of mass killings and other atrocities. His earlier work, such as the book Why Did They Kill? Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide, examined the processes behind genocidal violence; he is now exploring how people recover from genocide, delving into issues ranging from mental health concerns to the mechanisms for providing justice and redress. He is the 2009 recipient of a major anthropological prize for his work, the Robert B. Textor and Family Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology.

HUB OF IDEAS

Back at Rutgers, students in Hinton’s courses, such as “Genocide: Perpetrators, Prisons, and Power,” read about the tribunals, discuss the psychology and significance of confession, and learn firsthand about Hinton’s research, methodologies, and experiences as an anthropologist in Cambodia.

The center, meanwhile, serves as a hub of discussion and ideas. Its lectures, films, teach-ins, and other events have brought international scholars, filmmakers, and artists to Rutgers. “Why Civil Resistance Works,” “Women Redefining the Battlefield,” and “U.S. Policy Perspectives on International Criminal Tribunals” are just some of the programs that the center has organized.

“In terms of prevention, if people don’t understand about the history of genocide—about the different genocides that have occurred—there’s no hope for preventing genocide,” says Hinton. “It’s only when people have an understanding that they can speak out, and one of the key ways to prevent genocide is through education, and when people respond—and protest.”