June 8, 2023

UCalgary political scientists team up to explore the Oddities of Violence

New podcast series and transdisciplinary workshop delve into cases of political violence that exist on the margins of current thinking
Oddities of Violence
Oddities of Violence brings scholars from across the globe together to discuss genocide and terrorism cases. Leanna Santucci

What can Thucydides’ reflections on brutality in the Peloponnesian War, the starvation of Cambodian citizens by the Khmer Rouge, and the rise of Incel terror threats tell us today?

First, they are all examples of what can be deemed political violence. Second, they are also three of the case studies covered by a new project from a group of University of Calgary political scientists.

The Oddities of Violence podcast and transdisciplinary workshop is hosted by Dr. Maureen Hiebert, PhD, Dr. Joshua Goldstein, PhD, and Dr. Gavin Cameron, PhD, all from the Department of Political Science.

The 10-episode podcast series and two-day workshop will see the three experts, who specialize in the fields of terrorism studies, genocide studies, and political philosophy, team up with other scholars from across the globe to explore a range of events and accounts that centre on the experience, the justification, the problematization of extreme political violence.

“We envisioned two things in parallel,” explains Goldstein. “One was the podcast as an accessible way for the general public to learn about these really gripping cases and ideas about violence, and then the workshop which is designed for a more specialized academic audience.”

Podcast available on CJSW

The podcast, which is produced and edited by fourth-year political science student and research assistant Alejandra Vivas and can be accessed on the CJSW website, was a way for the three scholars to reach a broader audience of listeners who may be interested in the topic of political violence and to have some fun discussing an area of research passion.

“Now we know why half the population of the world has a podcast,” says Goldstein. “It’s great fun.”

Listeners tuning in will not be getting an in-depth analysis of the most well-known instances of genocide and terrorism, like the Holocaust or the 9/11 attacks, but rather a look at some of the “odder” cases of political violence in human history. This is by design.

Cameron says there tends to be a series of seminal cases in the literature around terrorism and genocide, so the underpinning for the Oddities of Violence project was to look at cases that are not well represented or well explained by these standard accounts of genocide and terrorism.

“We wanted to explore what might be going on in these cases and to bring alternative intellectual resources to try and explain them,” he says.

The cases explored stand at the margins and borders of what terrorism and genocide studies knows, even though the violence is enacted by states and actors who are widely known, such as the Roman empire and the Athenian empire.

Genesis, archetype and novelty topic areas

The podcast and workshop are divided into three topic areas: genesis, archetype, and novelty. Genesis explores cases that can be seen as the origins of the phenomena of genocide and terrorism. Archetype explores cases that are fully realized forms of the phenomena but haven’t been tackled in the literature. Novelty is both a forward- and backward-thinking section, with scholars taking a novel approach to understanding political violence that has happened or is still happening.

While political science may appear to have a headlock on the study of violence, Oddities of Violence has reached out to scholars from various backgrounds including geography, legal studies, history and classics to disrupt the typical thinking on violence and provide new intellectual resources for these difficult cases.

Hiebert says adding in the political philosophy element has been one of the innovative approaches of the project, which has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

“The classicists, the philosophers and the political theorists have a way of thinking about violence that never speaks to the social science literature on violence,” says Hiebert.

The June 8 and 9 workshop brings together the hosts and scholars to present a more in-depth version of their podcast conversations. For Hiebert, Goldstein and Cameron, the workshop is the first stage of turning these discussions into an edited book.

“We’re hoping to have a book that can be read in whole or in part by scholars or senior-level students in the philosophy of violence, terrorism studies and genocide studies,” says Hiebert.

“That’s what we’re aiming for.”

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