Damien Short, Redefining Genocide: Settler Colonialism, Social Death and Ecocide (2016).

Damien Short explores genocide at the nexus of law and sociology, vis-à-vis the two definitions Raphael Lemkin, Polish lawyer who coined the term “genocide,” helped create. On one hand, Lemkin is considered “the founder of the United Nations Genocide Convention” (1948), which articulates a narrower legal—and the only internationally accepted—definition of genocide. On the other hand, “genocide” first appeared in Lemkin’s seminal book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944), where he considers genocide sociologically. Short engages with this recently clarified concept of “cultural genocide,” which broadly refers to a “method of genocide which destroys a social group through the destruction of their culture.” In doing so, Short argues for the appreciation of culture and social death, contesting that understanding genocide as mass killing is sociologically inadequate. The legal definition of genocide does not account for “culturally destructive processes which do not involve direct physical killing or violence,” when this is the experience of indigenous peoples especially. Through case studies in Palestine, Sri Lanka, Australia and Canada, Short examines genocide in the context of settler colonialism. In the final case study of tar sands in Alberta, Canada, he brings us to a key contribution of this book, “ecocide as a method of genocide.” Drawing upon Polly Higgins’ definition of ecocide as ecological disaster caused by human agency, Short exemplifies the Athabasca tar sands as such: when extractive industries use indigenous lands, their environmental externalities can lead to physical as well as cultural destruction.

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