Genocide as Social Practice
Reorganizing Society under the Nazis and Argentina's Military Juntas
Publication Year: 2014
The Nazis resorted to ruthless methods in part to stifle dissent but even more importantly to reorganize German society into a Volksgemeinschaft, or people’s community, in which racial solidarity would supposedly replace class struggle. The situation in Argentina echoes this. After seizing power in 1976, the Argentine military described its own program of forced disappearances, torture, and murder as a “process of national reorganization” aimed at remodeling society on “Western and Christian” lines.
For Feierstein, genocide can be considered a technology of power—a form of social engineering—that creates, destroys, or reorganizes relationships within a given society. It influences the ways in which different social groups construct their identity and the identity of others, thus shaping the way that groups interrelate. Feierstein establishes continuity between the “reorganizing genocide” first practiced by the Nazis in concentration camps and the more complex version—complex in terms of the symbolic and material closure of social relationships —later applied in Argentina. In conclusion, he speculates on how to construct a political culture capable of confronting and resisting these trends.
First published in Argentina, in Spanish, Genocide as Social Practice has since been translated into many languages, now including this English edition. The book provides a distinctive and valuable look at genocide through the lens of Latin America as well as Europe.
Published by: Rutgers University Press
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Introduction: Bridging the Gap between Two Genocides
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The starting point for this book arose from my intuition two decades ago that the policies pursued by the Argentine military dictatorship against political opponents and dissidents between 1976 and 1983 had important similarities to those pursued by the Third Reich, particularly before but even during World War II, despite the huge differences in the number of victims and historical contexts...
Part One: Some Theoretical Questions
1. Defining the Concept of Genocide
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The annihilation of population masses is an age-old phenomenon. The destruction of Troy by the Greeks, the razing of Carthage by the Romans, and the atrocities of the Mongols under Genghis Khan are just a few examples that can be found in any history book. Genocide, on the other hand, is a distinctly modern concept. The term “genocide” was first used by the Polish-Jewish legal...
2. Toward a Typology of Genocidal Social Practices
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Many writers have sought to define the essential features of the Nazi genocide. Rather fewer have attempted to understand how genocidal social practices have varied across different societies during the twentieth century. Fewer still have moved beyond comparative analyses of this sort to consider genocidal social practices as a social process—in other words, ...
3. Reconciling the Contradictions of Modernity: Equality, Sovereignty, Autonomy, and Genocidal Social Practices
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In recent years a growing body of literature across various disciplines has been concerned with the concept of modernity. Writers in areas as diverse as law, history, sociology, philosophy, aesthetics, and design now routinely use it—often in quite different and even contradictory ways. For the purposes of this discussion, modernity means a power system together with a set of specific practices...
Part Two: Historical Foundations: The Nazi Genocide
The purpose of this section is to raise some sociological questions about the different ways in which genocide has been theorized. In fact, sociologists had little to say on the subject before the 1990s. Since then, however, things have changed and European, U.S., Israeli, and Canadian sociologists, historians, philosophers, and theologians have produced some remarkable work in this area. In this section we...
4. Discourse and Politics in Holocaust Studies: Uniqueness, Comparability, and Narration
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Before considering different theoretical explanations of the Holocaust, we need to examine the various discourses that have grown up over the years as writers have attempted to get closer to their subject matter. Because the destruction of European Jews involved a radical break with previous social practices, social...
5. The Problem of Explaining the Causes of the Nazi Genocides
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Comparative analysis does not exempt scholars from trying to understand the causes of the Nazi genocides and the conditions that made them possible. On the contrary, without such an understanding, they would find it impossible to establish the structural similarities and differences between these and other genocidal processes—or to know whether two events were comparable at all...
6. Reshaping Social Relations through Genocide
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After examining some basic approaches to the Nazi genocides, in this chapter I will offer a six-stage model of genocidal social practices, emphasizing their ability to construct, destroy, and reorganize the social fabric. This is not a historical timeline of the Holocaust, of which there have been many, nor does it attempt to analyze the successive vagaries of Nazi ideology...
Part Three: Toward a Historical Basis: Genocidal Social Practices in Argentina
International recognition of the importance of the Nazi genocides has given rise to a rich and complex literature attempting to explain the causes of these crimes or to choose between alternative explanations as to why they happened. As we have seen, different theories have been proposed at different times and in different parts of the world—even though some commentators reject the possibility...
7. Explaining Genocidal Social Practices in Argentina: The Problem of Causation
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It is difficult to find authors who provide a comprehensive meaning to the events that occurred in Argentina during the military dictatorship of 1976 to 1983. Nevertheless, both during the dictatorship and since it ended nearly thirty years ago, there have been several more or less explicit attempts by politicians, journalists, and academics to make sense of what happened through—sometimes intuitive—causal models. For the sake of brevity, these events will be...
8. Toward a Periodization of Genocide in Argentina
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One of the central arguments of this book is that genocidal social practices have underpinned the exercise of power in the modern period. This chapter suggests how the periodization of genocidal social practices developed in previous chapters can be applied in the case of Argentina, as well as pointing out the main similarities and differences between Argentina’s military repression and...
9. Concentration Camp Logic
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As we have seen in previous chapters, the Nazis not only created a new type of genocide—what I call “reorganizing genocide”; they also used various methods to kill their victims, including shootings, gassings, death marches, starvation, and disease. One of the distinctive features of the Nazi genocides was the use of concentration camps as tools of oppression and mass extermination...
10. In Conclusion: The Uses of Memory
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One of the main arguments running through this book has been that genocidal social practices are not simply an irrational descent into barbarism fueled by hatred and prejudice, nor are they exceptional phenomena. On the contrary, they are a specific technology of power for destroying and reorganizing social relations that has played a crucial and well-defined role at different moments in...
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About the Author
Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2014