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Pedagogies of Genocide: Critical and Comparative Approaches to Mass Atrocity and Political Violence in the Middle East

RoundTable II-4, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, November 2 at 5:30 pm

RoundTable Description
The genocide historian Dirk Moses’ recent book The Problem of Genocide has powerfully argued that the talk of ‘genocide’ as an international crime defined as the crime of all crimes, detracts from “other types of humanly caused civilian death, like bombing cities and the “collateral damage” of missile and drone strikes, blockades, and sanctions” that are the outcome of “‘permanent security’ imperatives,” namely the desire and strife of states and militant groups seeking to eliminate threats, making “themselves invulnerable.” Introducing what Moses’s calls genocidal moments and the greater Middle East as a broad space of investigation, this roundtable seeks to investigate how we might introduce new methods and discussions of teaching about genocide. For some decades, "comparative genocide" studies has developed into its own, not uncontroversial, field of inquiry. Rather than evaluating various genocides to determine which one was the worst or judge the degree of horror based on a pornography of pain, comparative genocide studies examines modern genocides through larger themes such as modernity, memory, representation, denial, and reconciliation to study and delineate common conditions that lead to genocide. Postsecondary educational methodologies of teaching "comparative genocide" often adhere to an archetypical framing (i.e., teaching one genocide in detail and then bringing in other cases to compare). The Genocide and Human Rights University Program of the Zoryan Institute in Toronto, for example, teaches the Armenian case in detail and then invites comparisons of other cases after students have mastered the history of the Armenian case. The recent shift in the study of genocide explores massacres, mass atrocities, and ethnic cleansing together with humanitarian interventions and human rights studies. This is a welcome development, but it also presents several problems, from the selection of materials for such a course, the framing, the student’s emotive responses, and most importantly, how to teach thematically without losing historical depth and specificity. Recent scholarship has introduced approaches that are not simply historical in the strict sense but cultural and critical (informed by theoretical frameworks and new pedagogies). For example, theories of memory, embodiment and affect, in particular, have broadened the interpretive field of knowledge formation about mass atrocity. The roundtable aims to discuss the positive implementation of such approaches in the classroom and for the development of the field.
Political Science
  • My roundtable presentation will discuss approaches to teaching about mass atrocity and genocide in comparative contexts and survey various disciplinary and critical frameworks. I will rely on interdisciplinary seminars I have taught that address cases such as Bosnia, Ottoman Armenia, and Xinjiang as well as consider comparative approaches used in other cases such as the Black Atlantic slave trade and the Nakba. In this context, I will also discuss the process of co-editing a volume on the Armenian genocide (with Profs. Tanielian and Adak, in progress) that focuses on theories of archive, memory, embodiment and affect. Questions at issue in these discussions include: What do different critical approaches bring to students' understanding of genocide? How do we teach culturally without losing historical depth and specificity? and How can we connect historical cases to present-day conflicts of mass violence? The roundtable aims to discuss the effective implementation of such approaches that touch on related topics such as gender, racialization, class, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the classroom.
  • My contribution for this roundtable will be based on my experience teaching a breadth of literature courses through English departments. First, I'll take a holistic approach by reflecting on strategies that I have come up with to facilitate discussion both inside the classroom and during student conferences when teaching prose, poetry, and art that address histories of collective trauma and as well as depictions of remembrance practices of collective violence. To that end, I'll reflect on modeling for class members how approaching these topics can be done with thoughtfulness, care, and introspection as well as reflect on assignments that create space for students to acknowledge their own subject positions in the meaning making process---from where they are physically located in the site of a classroom in a land grant university, to their rapport with peers with whom they may or may not share identities and background experiences, to their role as learners and discussion facilitators on such topics as social justice movements, human catastrophe, and lived experiences of diasporas to which they may self-identify as insiders or outsiders. Second, from a broader view, I'll turn to reflecting on the most recent course that I taught, "Armenian Relationality: Diasporas Old, New, and in the Making" and the online essay/blog post that I wrote about it the teaching experience, titled "I Want to Teach a Different Story About the Armenian Diaspora: A Reflection on Pedagogy." As part of this, I will discuss how I have come to understand the teaching of Armenian Genocide Studies, Armenian Diaspora Studies, and Armenian Studies at large---as overlapping but divergent fields of inquiry---and how I situate the teaching of Armenian diasporic experiences, especially collective violence and its legacies, within the geopolitical region of the Middle East and as part of Middle East Studies.
  • In this paper I argue that the Armenian-American attachment to the American Dream is a melancholic attachment that undoes itself; I also show how, in that undoing, this attachment might just gesture not only toward its own critique, but also toward other horizons. I generate this argument by reflecting upon an archive I received from my aunt, Hélène Kazanjian Sargeant, after her death in 2010.