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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Bruce Hoffman
SOC 401
Seattle Campus

Special Topics in Sociology

Selected topics of contemporary interest taught by a sociologist active in the field. Topics vary and may be substantive, theoretical, or methodological.

Class Description



In the decades following the Holocaust, the extermination of European Jews, an imperative emerged for thinkers as they sought to respond to the unprecedented evil of the Nazi death camps: not to give Hitler any posthumous victories; never to let it happen again. Nearly sixty years after that event, horrors that we lump together as "genocide" continue to amass, with only the better-known remembered by a single proper name. Cambodia. Biafra. Rwanda. Bosnia. Kosovo. While each of these catastrophes differs from the Holocaust and from one another in their own devastating way, they also share many common features, including violence and murder on an incomprehensible scale; vocabularies to isolate and dehumanize the victims and normalize killing for the perpetrators; and a world which largely shut its eyes to the violence and precipitating factors.

While all of these events are worthy of study in their own right, that shall not be our focus in this course. Instead, we shall take up the limited question of how groups and states have organized responses to mass violence, questioning what it teaches us about the role and power of law, the meaning of justice, and the possibilities for healing and prevention of future occurrences. Starting with the Holocaust, we shall explore early intellectual and political responses to the event, including thinkers confronting the logic of the Nazi death camps and their implications for our understanding of humanity, considerations of German guilt and world complicity, and the limits of law as a vehicle for dispensing justice and reconstructing meaning at the trials at Nuremberg and elsewhere. In subsequent weeks, we will explore responses to genocide and mass violence in the wake of the Holocaust. We shall first consider emerging understandings of human rights and crimes against humanity, the development of the International Criminal Tribunal, and ask whether human rights in general are sufficient to protect women's rights in particular, given the normalization of mass rape in conflicts including Bosnia and Rwanda. We shall then turn to a variety of innovative responses to conflict, including transnational efforts to replace conflict based on national identity with a gendered women's solidarity; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa; and, through comparative analysis, critically explore and assess the many ways in which law has been used in efforts to respond and heal mass violence. In a final section of the course, we shall consider responses by the United States to atrocity, the sociology of denial, and law's relationship to history, representation, and memory.

This is an experimental course that I am very excited to be able to teach, an opportunity for us survey a recent and growing literature. It will not be easy for us to absorb it all in four and one-half short weeks: some of the readings will be difficult theoretically, and many of the readings difficult emotionally. The events we shall be discussing are chilling, horrific, and difficult to confront, but our consistent emphasis will be on the ways in which those who lived them have passed through, attempting to rebuild their lives and reconstruct meaning without forgetting, or repeating, the past.

Students should come to the first class ready to discuss Elie Wiesel's "Night."

Recommended preparation

Class Assignments and Grading

The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
View Course Syllabus
Last Update by Bruce Hoffman
Date: 06/03/2003