Social death and the loss of a ‘world’: an anatomy of genocidal harm in Sudan
International Journal of Human Rights
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This article explores Claudia Card’s hypothesis that social death is the distinctive harm of genocide. Drawing on original in-depth interviews with individuals from the genocide-affected regions of Darfur and the Nuba Mountains in Sudan (now living in, and interviewed in, the US and the UK), I illustrate the value and validity of the concept of social death as a phenomenological lens for understanding the depth, extent and character of genocide’s harms for its victims and survivors. Aided by the work of a number of authors (including Elias and Jean-Luc Nancy), I outline a relational interpretation of Card’s important scholarship in order to show that understanding the distinctiveness of genocide requires that we also consider, in ontological terms, what it means to be human. I seek to do this in a way that may form the basis of a flexible definitional approach to genocide, and which overcomes oppositions between individualist and collectivist approaches to conceptualising harm. Often falling through the gaps of technical legal discourse and conventional frameworks of understanding, the profound, existential harm of genocide can be challenging to grasp. By centring the concept of social death, this article aims to contribute to our ability to do.
- Department of Law