- Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide
Rwanda Since the 1994 Genocide


Individual Agency?

By kristi on February 8, 2013

What struck me particularly with this week’s readings was the lack of human agency that is acknowledged when speaking about the genocide.  Especially in Straus’ chapter on the historical background, he outlines the various mechanisms that lead from ethnicity to violence, the dehumanization, an ideological commitment, antipathy… and also touches on the different relationships that surround the discourses.  That is, between deprivation and violence, social pressure and legitimation, and institutionalized practices of obedience and authoritarianism.  Further, this talk of relationships pointed me back to the social stratification game that we played last week.  I emerged from that experience very aware of the nature of relationships formed, most as being dependent upon a constant economy of exchange.  With factors such as the competition for resources, the struggle to live for one’s next meal, and the oppressive political regime that stripped one of dignity and personal power, relationships are very obviously different than ones we form within (and I’m generalizing, here) comparatively privileged backgrounds.  The network in which we found ourselves entangled was dense, and convoluted, but all based around the mechanisms that Straus refers to as the pre-conditions for genocide.

Referring back to my earlier comment on individual agency, the reason why I am surprised that is amiss in Straus’ reading is particularly due to the Skype call with Erin Jessee as well as the writings by Jefremovas and Pottier, often hinting at a notion of a ‘shame-culture.’   That is, one is so caught up in this network that isn’t necessarily representative of one’s beliefs, morals, etc, yet to remove one self is “social death” as Jessee states, complete isolation and ignominy.  So individual rights and wants become rather obsolete.  I am beginning to understand this, especially as part of a group mentality, social pressure, and mechanized process.  However, does that mean we should discount the capacity for individual choice altogether?  The question of what drives a person to kill is pressing, as we began to discuss at the end of last class, but if the ideologies surrounding the narrative are so great, is it even a relevant question to ask?  I wrestle with this because agency is one of the greatest capabilities that individuals hold, and if such is lost, it seems as though we are always capable of anything… violence, cruelty, domination…  Maybe the more pressing question is if these mechanisms actually can make rational faculties void… or if that discourse is a scapegoat for a lack of individual resistance and interpretation.


  • kristi said:

    In addition: After reading Fujii’s chapter, which does specifically talk about the individual’s role, my thoughts are further complicated. She speaks of the different ways that the genocide unfolded in each community which characterized the violence, and how often people’s actions were the result of circumstances or “a logic of contamination.” However, Fujii also cites that there existed these ‘blood pacts’ which were deep-ceded prior relationships that actually prevented individuals from partaking in the violence. The pure ethnic hatred, she notes, was not a cause of the war, but a result. So to what do we hold the violence accountable? The regime? The actor? I suppose my previous questions still stand.

  • ST said:

    Good response to a complicate set of local, national and international forces. What if the notion of “circumscribed” agency in which individuals make strategic choices in a narrow and context-contingent set of options? If this line of inquiry interests you, I can direct you to the feminist agency literature as you begin to think about which people you might like to (hypothetically) interview as part of your IRB assignment.

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