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Identity, Genocide, and Group Violence

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Handbook of Identity Theory and Research

Abstract

Social identity is typically multidimensional, involving connections and commitments to multiple overlapping groups. Because abstract groups such as nations, cultures, or religions have the potential to outlast the individuals who compose them at any given point in time, affiliation with such groups provides a sense of continuity, permanence, and meaning. Thus, we are highly motivated to act on behalf of groups central to our social identities and against other groups that threaten or impede our own. On the basis of these theoretical considerations, the chapter provides a four-phase model of genocide. The first phase involves a dichotomization of identity that divides the social universe into “us” and “them.” Phase 2 involves a process of dehumanization that places “them” outside the realm of moral obligation. This enables and justifies violence against the out-group, up to and including genocide (phase 3). Such justification is supplemented, in a final phase, by denial of what really happened, thus enabling the perpetrators to maintain their moral self-conceptions. These phases are illustrated with examples encompassing the Holocaust, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the Latin American dirty wars of the 1970s and 1980s, and the European conquest of the Americas since 1492. The analysis is then extended to other cases of group violence, including the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

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Correspondence to David Moshman .

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Moshman, D. (2011). Identity, Genocide, and Group Violence. In: Schwartz, S., Luyckx, K., Vignoles, V. (eds) Handbook of Identity Theory and Research. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-7988-9_39

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