A typology of theoretical approaches to the study of Rwandan Tutsi genocide

Date10 October 2016
Published date10 October 2016
AuthorOscar Gasana
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology, policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
A typology of theoretical approaches to
the study of Rwandan Tutsi genocide
Oscar Gasana
Oscar Gasana is a Conflict
Management Advisor at
Employment and Social
Development Canada, Office of
Informal Conflict Management,
Gatineau, Canada.
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to provide a typological framework of approaches to the study of the
Rwandan Tutsi genocide, in a comparative perspective. Based on the assertion that no single theoretical
approach can account for so complex and totalizing a phenomenon, the paper targets different aspects of
causality, drawing from three key publications by contemporary genocide scholars: Vern N. Redekop,
Christopher Taylor and Mahmood Mamdani. It argues for their significant complementary contribution to a
better understanding of the last genocide of the twentieth century. By offering different analytical angles, as
demonstrated from each perspective, the paper enriches the conceptualisation of genocides in general, and
the Rwandan Tutsi genocide in particular.
Design/methodology/approach This paperfocuses on the Rwandan Tutsi genocide.Drawing from three
key contemporaryauthors, it identifiesand analyses three theoreticalapproaches in a comparativeperspective,
namely, the human identity needs approach (Redekop, 2002), the politico-anthropological approach (Taylor,
2000)and the colonialist approach(Mamdani, 2002) which,if unified, would go a longway in providing a clearer
picture and a better understanding of Rwandan Tutsi genocide.Of course thisdoes not mean that the three
approaches account for every aspect of the phenomenon understudy. It is a work in progress, reflectingthe
complex nature of genocide and the concomitant need to approach its analysis from different angles and
perspectives.The selected authors addressdifferent key areas of scientificenquiry from different perspectives
that complementeach other, leading to a better understanding of the reality under investigation.
Findings The authors learn from these approaches the constructed nature of ethnicity, what Benedict
Anderson (1983,p. 211) calls the imagined communities. The Rwandese community was imagined by the
colonialpower, codifyingthe distinctions on the basisof such ridiculous criteriaas cattle ownershipand physical
measurements, and issuingidentity cards accordingly.In the final analysis, the choice of the mostappropriate
approachesto the studyof genocide is a functionof multiple factors:cultural, historical,political,anthropological,
psychological, ethnographical, each genocide case being contextuallydifferent. The combination of the three
approachesabove seems to go a long way in confronting the complexity of the Rwandan Tutsi genocide.
Research limitations/implications As the authors have already mentioned, the theoretical approaches
are not exhaustive. Yet, they have significant implications in terms of research processes.
Practical implications Practically, these approaches lead to a deeper and broader understanding of
genocide causality.
Social implications By tackling research issues from multiple angles, the product captures more elements
that enable the shift from the structures of violence towards the structures of blessing.
Originality/value It is the first time that such a research tool is made available to researchers wishing to
deepen the understanding of the Rwandan Tutsi genocide.
Keywords Typology, Theories, Genocide, Conceptualization, Rwanda, Tutsi
Paper type Conceptual paper
Undertaking social research is not an easy task. It is even more so when the research is about a
complex phenomenon like genocide, given the many unique challenges involved, which call into
question the meaning systems by which we make sense of the world (Redekop, 2002).
Received 17 December 2015
Revised 17 December 2015
Accepted 12 February 2016
VOL. 8 NO. 4 2016, pp.258-268, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599 DOI 10.1108/JACPR-12-2015-0204

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