The Holocaust, Genocide and Society (SOC3046A)

StaffDr Nigel Pleasants - Lecturer
Credit Value30
Academic Year2014/5
ECTS Value15.00
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 to be 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 an 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 SOC3046a and philosophy students under PHL3046a - because historical and social scientific explanation and understanding of the Holocaust and kindred phenomena inherently raises questions of a philosophical nature. The module 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. understand the significance of the Holocaust and genocide for wider conceptions of social organisation and ethical life,
  • 2. acquire knowledge and a clear understanding of some of the leading social scientific and interpretative attempts to account for socially organised evil- and wrong-doing

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Develop the ability to apply and evaluate pertinently 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
  • 4. reflect 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

  • 5. reflect on, and examine critically, taken-for-granted moral and cultural beliefs and values
  • 6. analyse and communicate, clearly and directly, a range of theoretical, explanatory, epistemological, ontological, and normative issues arising from study of the Holocaust, genocide and other kindred events, processes and institutions

Syllabus plan

1. Introduction & orientation: What was the Holocaust and what can be learned from studying it?
2. The concept and practice of genocide
3. Is the Holocaust a unique?: Theoretical and conceptual questions
4. Is the Holocaust a unique?: Epistemic and political questions
5. The Dialectic of Enlightenment, civilisation and progress
6. the Modernity thesis: is the Holocaust an essentially modern phenomenon?
7. The nature of evil: Radical or Banal?
8. Social psychology: situationist explanation and the fundamental attributional error
9. The ‘evil of banality’: critical reflection on the modernity and banality theses
10. Explaining direct perpetrators' actions: Browning's situationist explanation
11. Explaining direct perpetrators' actions: Goldhagen's cognitive explanation
12. Assessment of Browning's and Goldhagen's theories: a radical alternative?
13. Structure and agency in the Holocaust: ‘Intentionalist’ versus ‘functionalist’ conceptions
14. Rescue and resistance: supererogation, ordinary goodness and the social conditions of altruism
15. The Bystander effect and its significance in modern society
16. Normalisation of the Holocaust? Comparison & analogy with other genocides and examples of institutionalised wrong- and evil-doing
17. Holocaust  denial
18. Knowledge, ignorance and moral responsibility
19. Collective responsibility/guilt, and problems of redress
20. Judgement and understanding: compatible or incompatible?
21. Overview: what have we learned?

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 441 x 2 hour weekly lecture/seminar
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity 221 x 1 hour weekly ‘drop-in’ sessions for further exploration of lecture and module themes and issues
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity 1Revision session
Guided Independent study233A variety of activities directed by module leader.

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 1251900 words1-6Written feedback
Essay 2251900 words1-6Written feedback
Exam502 hours1-6Written feedback

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExamExam1-6August/September assessment period
Essay 1Essay 1-6August/September assessment period
Essay 2Essay1-6August/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