Department of Educational Psychology


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Published in IDENTITY: AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THEORY AND RESEARCH, 7(2), 115–135 Copyright © 2007, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Used by permission.


Genocide is commonly deemed to be either inexplicable or the result of special hatreds. I argue instead that genocide is an extreme result of normal identity processes. Four overlapping phases are proposed. (1) Dichotomization elevates one dimension of identity over others and, within that dimension, sharply distinguishes two categories: us and them. This may lead to (2) dehumanization, in which “they” come to be seen not just as different from “us” but as outside the human universe of moral obligation. (3) Destruction may result, accompanied and followed by processes of (4) denial that enable the perpetrators to maintain their moral self-conceptions. These phases are illustrated with examples from the Holocaust, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the Latin American dirty wars of the 1970s and 1980s, and the European conquest of the Americas.