Aliza Luft is assistant professor of sociology at UCLA. Her research and teaching interests include comparative-historical and political sociology, war and violence, social boundary processes, and cognition. Her empirical work, based on the Holocaust in France and the Rwandan genocide, focuses on categorical and behavioral boundary processes, social cognition, and the causes and consequences of violence. You can learn more about her research and publications at www.alizaluft.com.
This essay articulates the importance of focusing on behavioral actions in research on genocide rather than on categories of people. Then, through a brief review of research on dehumanization, it demonstrates how a focus on actions over actors helps explain behavioral variation in genocide. It also highlights the need for researchers to consider their own positionality when studying participation in genocide, as research on genocide is always fraught with complex questions of moral right and wrong.