Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Rwanda-Auschwitz: Bare Life in the State of Exception

Margaret Ozierski.

In his book, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda, Mahmood Mamdani looks at what he considers to be the most troubling aspect of the genocide in Rwanda, its popular character. This perpetration of a crime against humanity by an entire nation of people rather than by a state elite leads the author to consider how this was possible politically. In so doing, he makes the provocative claim that the events in Rwanda ought to be considered not simply ethnic violence, but a genocide like the one that was carried out in Auschwitz. Provocative indeed, considering the reverence that has shrouded the singularity of the Holocaust. The latter has been considered an unthinkable ‘event’ that troubles the very notion of what constitutes an event, making the political the wrong register for discussion. To suggest that we think the Holocaust in its political dimension, or worse, to compare it to another event, borders on sacrilege for some scholars. However, at a time when the Holocaust has become a catalyst for rethinking the political, Mamdani’s study merits attention for good reason. It represents an attempt to widen the context of both Holocaust studies and Mamdani’s own field, postcolonial Area studies. It represents the wish to take a more global perspective on history and politics of the past century with a view to rejuvenating political praxis. Mamdani’s study deserves attention because it challenges us to really see what "the study of Africa [can] teach us about late modern life." However, Mamdani’s provocative parallel remains provocative, and no more. His perspective on the Rwandan genocide remains undeveloped because not inscribed in the very global perspective he seems to want to win for it. This paper thus has a two-fold aim: to place the Rwanda-Auschwitz parallel in that context by putting it in communication with the work of Giorgio Agamben, an innovative political theorist, and to initiate a critical discussion within that context.


Margaret Ozierski  (United States)
Graduate Student
Romance Studies Department
Duke University

Margaret Ozierski is a third-year student in French at Duke University, currently studying in Paris. Her interests include post-war French literature and the Nietzschean tradition in France.

  • Genocide
  • Rwanda
  • Auschwitz
  • Witness/ ing
  • Humanity
  • Human

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)