Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

Sociology and Social Policy

Research Student: Jack Palmer

Genocide and Entanglement: Modernity and Mass Violence in the African Great Lakes Region

My overarching research interest concerns the relationship between modernity and the phenomenon of genocide and other forms of violence. My PhD addresses this overarching interest through a historical-sociological analysis of the colonial and postcolonial history of the African Great Lakes region.

Utilising the concept of ‘entanglement’, I aim to demonstrate that the experiences of nations in the Great Lakes region cannot and should not be explained as discrete and distant spatial-temporal units, detached from processes associated with modernity and globalisation. Entanglement encompasses the interrelationships between instances of genocide and conflict which are all too often obscured in comparative genocide studies, which focusses almost exclusively on Rwanda 1994 and neglects related genocidal violence in neighbouring Burundi, eastern Congo and Uganda. It also captures relations between the Great Lakes region and Europe first developed during the modern globalising process of colonialism, and surviving in ‘coloniality’ after independence.                             

As such, drawing on a range of primary and secondary historical sources, the project aims to contribute to ongoing debates in genocide studies regarding the relationship between modernity and genocide – in the specific empirical context of the Great Lakes region – and engages with questions recently raised in the emerging subfield of critical genocide studies, specifically questions related to how we know about genocide. Three broad, interrelated research problems therefore underpin the analysis: i) what are the connections between genocide and modernity? ii) How might these connections elucidate colonial and postcolonial genocide in the Great Lakes region? iii) And how are these connections revealed – or concealed – in the dominant discourses about them.

Background

I completed my undergraduate degree in Media Studies and Entertainment Technology at the University of Portsmouth in 2011. Here, I developed an interest in the mediation of the 1994 Rwandan genocide through two lenses: at a general level, in Western representations of African violence; and at a particular level, in the role of the Radio Television des Libres Collines (RTLM) radio station and Kangura journal in facilitating violence. I completed an MA in Social and Political Thought at the Bauman Institute in 2012, where my dissertation focused on the history of violent exploitation in DR Congo and its embeddedness in processes of modernity and globalisation. Upon graduating, I worked for 1 year at Leeds University Business School before starting my PhD.

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

I see this project as a continuation of an open-ended process of understanding that began in earnest whilst studying for my undergraduate degree. My work on that degree course, followed by my MA dissertation – which was awarded the Janina Bauman Prize 2012 – raised further questions which now drive my PhD study.

What makes me passionate about my subject?

I continue to be struck by the troubling paradox that, while we are daily confronted with images of war and suffering, our “common-sense” resources for interpreting and understanding violence are extremely limited. The project also connects a number of research interests detailed as follows:

  • Genocide studies; sociological theories of violence and morality
  • History of the African Great Lakes region
  • Historical-sociological conceptions of modernity, civilization, globalisation and colonialism.
  • Classical and contemporary social and political theory.
  • Urban Sociology.
  • Other interests pertain broadly to the research activities of the Bauman Institute.

I have also taught on the following modules: Sociological Thinking (level one), Current Issues in Society (level one), Urban Disorders, Social Divisions and Social Control (level two), and Central Problems in Sociology (level two).

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

I would like to pursue a career in academia. I have a strong commitment to my research and have developed a passion for teaching and communicating sociological ideas. Though I am aware that work in the university is becoming increasingly competitive and ‘precariatised’, I believe that sociology has taken on an especial significance in light of recent societal shifts and is a vital tool for orienting ourselves in our contemporary world.

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