The Holocaust, Genocide and Society (SOC3046A)

StaffDr Nigel Pleasants - Lecturer
Credit Value30
Academic Year2018/9
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This is an interdisciplinary course, and not as such a history of the Holocaust or detailed comparative study of genocide. The overarching questions you will pursued are: What kind of events are the Holocaust and genocide, how do they fit into and relate to the modern societies in which they occur, and what are their ramifications  and significance for the normal civilised lives that we currently enjoy? The module combines historical and social scientific inquiry with philosophical reflection on the nature and significance of the Holocaust and possibly kindred events, processes and institutions. Reflecting its interdisciplinary ethos, the module is delivered simultaneously to social science students under SOC3046and philosophy students under PHL3046a. This is because historical and social scientific explanation and understanding of the Holocaust and kindred phenomena inherently raises questions of a philosophical nature. In this module you will therefore draws on theories, methodologies and concepts from sociology, social psychology, historical explanation and moral philosophy. Issues to be explored include: questions on the distinctiveness and newness of genocide, whether the Holocaust is a unique event, what kind of knowledge and understanding it affords, and its relationship to other events and practices of a putatively similar kind; different approaches to explaining the causes, conditions and essential features of the Holocaust; the nature of evil and the moral character of perpetrators and other participants; the relationship between the Holocaust, genocide and modernity; reflection on human nature, civilisation, social organisation and social progress; questions on perpetrator motivation and action, moral responsibility and blame.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Think social scientifically about the nature, origins and causes of the Holocaust in particular and genocide more generally.
  • 2. Reflect critically on the significance and import of the Holocaust and genocide for wider conceptions of the social organisation and ethical life of modern societies.
  • 3. Examine and assess critically some of the leading philosophical, social scientific and interpretative attempts to account for socially organised evil- and wrong-doing in modern societies.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Apply and evaluate critically a range of social scientific and historical explanations and theories of the Holocaust and genocide and to identify and reflect on the puzzling and disturbing issues that they generate
  • 5. Reflect critically on the core social scientific and historical disciplines as explanatory and interpretive endeavours and assess their success and limitations in making sense of the Holocaust, genocide and other kindred events, processes and institutions

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 6. Reflect on, and examine critically, taken-for-granted moral and cultural beliefs and values
  • 7. Analyse and communicate, clearly and directly, a range of social scientific, theoretical, explanatory, epistemological, ontological, and normative issues arising from study of the Holocaust, genocide and other kindred events, processes and institutions
  • 8. Work independently, within a limited time frame, and without access to external sources, to complete a specified task.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:


What was the Holocaust and what can be learned from studying it?

 The concept and practice of genocide

Is the Holocaust a unique? Theoretical and conceptual questions

Is the Holocaust a unique? Epistemic and political questions

 The Dialectic of Enlightenment, civilisation and progress

The Modernity thesis: is the Holocaust an essentially modern phenomenon?

The nature of evil: Radical or Banal?

Social psychology: situationist explanation and the fundamental attributional error

The ‘evil of banality’: critical reflection on the modernity and banality theses

Explaining direct perpetrators' actions: Browning's situationist explanation

Explaining direct perpetrators' actions: Goldhagen's cognitive explanation

Assessment of Browning's and Goldhagen's theories: a radical alternative?

Structure and agency in the Holocaust: ‘Intentionalist’ versus ‘functionalist’ conceptions

Rescue and resistance: supererogation, ordinary goodness and the social conditions of altruism

The Bystander effect and its significance in modern society

Normalisation of the Holocaust? Comparison & analogy with other genocides and examples of institutionalised wrong- and evil-doing

Holocaust  denial

Knowledge, ignorance and moral responsibility

Collective responsibility/guilt, and problems of redress

Judgement and understanding: compatible or incompatible?

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity 3322 x 1.5 hour weekly lecture
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity 1010 x fortnightly 1 hour smaller group seminars for further exploration of lecture and module themes and issues
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity 1.5Revision session
Guided Independent study130Assigned readings associated with each lecture
Guided independent study40Preparation for essay 1
Guided Independent Study40Preparation for essay 2
Guided Independent study45.5Preparation for exam. A variety of activities directed by module leader.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Peer marking and assessment exercise to show students practically good and bad practice and operative practical marking criteriaSeminar based exercise; no coursework1-6In class

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 1301900 words1-7Written feedback
Essay 2301900 words1-7Written feedback
Examination402 hours1-8Written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay 1Essay (1,900 words)1-7August/September assessment period
Essay 2Essay (1,900 words)1-7August/September assessment period
ExaminationExamination (2 hours)1-8August/September assessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

H. Arendt (1965) Eichmann in Jerusalem: a report on the banality of evil

Z. Bauman (1989) Modernity and the Holocaust

C. Browning (1992) Ordinary men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the final solution in Poland

E. Garrard & G. Scarre (eds) (2003) Moral philosophy and the Holocaust

D. Goldhagen (1997) Hitler's willing executioners: ordinary Germans and the Holocaust

R. Hilberg (1961; 1985) The destruction of the European Jews

D. Jones (1999) Moral responsibility in the Holocaust: A study in the ethics of character

L. May (2010) Genocide : a normative account

B. Schlink (1998) The Reader

A. Vetlesen (2005) Evil and Human Agency: Understanding Collective Evildoing

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Key words search

Holocaust, genocide, society, philosophical reflection, social scientific inquiry