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Skip to main content. Page Link: Select. Download: MP4. About this Item Title Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda Summary Author Lee Ann Fujii addresses some of the causes of the genocide that took place in Rwanda 15 years ago, killing nearly one million people in a span of days. Lee Ann Fujji is assistant professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.

Her areas of expertise are mass violence and genocide, ethnic conflict and Africa and Rwanda politics. She specializes in political violence and conflict. Her research focuses on local level violence that occurs during ethnic conflict in war. Again, this breaking up of a fixed term gives greater flexibility to the analysis as it allows for a greater range of possible actions and responses to the genocide and does not confine actors to specific roles.

As both authors try to solve the puzzle of what drove public participation in the genocide, a comparison of these approaches could have been useful. When conducting her research, Fujii focused on interviews conducted on several research sites, two rural communities and central prisons in the provinces Ruhengeri North Rwanda and Gitarama Central Rwanda. The communities in Ruhengeri consisted mostly of Hutu, but were subject to attacks from the Rwandan Patriotic Front RPF since the beginning of the s which led to mass killings of Tutsi before the start of the genocide in Conversely, communities in Gitarama had larger proportions of Tutsi, but did not experience the war or mass killings of Tutsi before the beginning of the genocide Fujii, , As Fujii states, she selected these two very different provinces to capture these distinctions, but also other given historical and political differences present in pre-genocidal Rwanda.

This method of selection is not immune to selection bias and therefore impedes an easy generalization of her findings which, according to Fujii, is not necessarily an aim of her research.

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The selected rural communities are not representative for the whole of Rwanda. Moreover, given the sensitive topic of her research and her intention to cover the spectrum of different responses to the genocide, Fujii relied on snowball sampling.

This is another aspect that contradicts the scientific ideal of randomly selecting respondents to avoid biases, to which Straus adhered to as much as possible when randomly selecting interviewees from the prisons. Fujii also used repeated visits for a specific core subset of people to go more in-depth for especially sensitive issues without justifying the criteria used for selecting which subjects where questioned repeatedly. All in all, her research design does not allow for a generalization of her findings, but restricts these to the communities from which she selected her respondents.

In the remainder of her book, Fujii first gives a short overview of Rwandan history before covering local narratives and explanations for the genocide given by her interviewees. She then describes and analyses views on ethnicity and its complex relation in Rwandan society. In the following chapter, she presents her understanding of the mechanisms which led to popular participation in the genocide, namely local ties to power, friends, and most importantly groups. Consequently, she describes how groups worked as constitutive element for the execution of the killing by creating a particular social actor with a particular identity, the Interahamwe Fujii, , Moreover, Fujii lists specific acts that were performed by groups as part of the killing, but never outside of this context such as spotting and circling the victims, threatening these, forcing others to join in, raping women and girls, torturing victims, pillaging, and mutilating dead bodies Fujii, , Nevertheless, the focus on group action and the constitution of a new, collective identity that is resumed instantly when the individuals assemble and as easily forgotten for the night when the group dissolves leaves several questions unanswered.

The step from being individual Hutu who had no particularly hateful feelings towards their Tutsi neighbors to a murderous group of Interahamwe remains unclear; while the idea of a specific group identity seems reasonable, one is left to wonder what motivated individuals to assume this identity. In addition to the obstacles described in the previous paragraph, her method of quoting selected interviewees on specific topics as evidence for her thesis is also questionable. Again, she does not justify which criteria were used to select these specific persons from the 81 she interviewee.

Rather than seeing identities and incentives as fixed, Fujii presents them as mutable influences that change according to context.


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The second part of the framework casts ordinary Rwandans as strategizing agents that act in accordance with personal desires rather than with the national government's agenda. Thirdly, Fujii rejects the notion of ethnicity acting as a prime motive for the violence. She contends that instead of ethnicity serving as an incentive in and of itself, it functioned as a "national script" for the violence that was acted out by the genocide's participants. The theoretical model used to analyze the findings of Fujii's nine months of research in Rwanda is based on the "social embeddedness" theory; a concept that posits that human action is embedded in networks of social relations.

This helps to identify key sets participants in the genocide, primarily local leaders and collaborators, and helps in coming to the ultimate conclusion that the mass killings were based on prior social relations.


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  • Her research focused on "joiners," a term she uses to describe ordinary Hutus from various communities throughout the country that participated in the violence. These actors were principally cultivators that were linked to their communities in various, complex ways, often overlapping with and being tied directly to Tutsis.

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    This social dynamic triggered the first part of Fujii's investigation, explaining why joiners partook in the genocide. Drawing from scores of interviews and first-hand testimony, she contends that recruitment for death squads was targeted and primarily took place through family ties.

    Book Release: Webs of Violence in Rwanda: A Conversation With Lee Ann Fujii

    This method, in combination with the unifying effects of collective violence, created a self-reinforcing, incremental process in which group ties were fortified and the violence gained momentum. A situation thus arose in which agency was on the group and individual choice did not matter.

    Individual participants were, however, able to determine their level of participation in acts of violence. While this explanation sheds light on why joiners initially participated in the genocide, it does not illuminate why they continued to do so. A significant discovery on Fujii's part was that in almost every instance, the killing of Tutsis was performed by groups of Hutus, not individuals. Therefore, the immediate social context of the killers proved to be of paramount importance in determining their actions.

    In the presence of groups or authorities, joiners went along with and even participated directly in the violence. Alone, however, they acted differently; rarely performing solo acts of violence and even, in some cases, aiding Tutsis in escaping persecution. As a result of these findings, Fujii determined that ethnicity did not, in fact, always determine one's fate during the Rwandan genocide.

    Killing Neighbors eBook by Lee Ann Fujii - | Rakuten Kobo

    The immediate social context of both killers and victims played a prominent role in determining the outcomes of Hutu-Tutsi interactions over the course of the event. The constitutive power of killing in groups ultimately motivated and further perpetuated the violence. The policy implications of these findings are that in genocide and incidences of mass violence, context matters. Moreover, they also indicate that identities and interests can shift and change and that explanations of collective killing based on group identities may be insufficient.

    After Fujii presented her work, Lars Waldorf provided a short appraisal and critique of her arguments.