Carl T. Dahlman
Extreme political violence, i.e., genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes, can be examined within three explanatory frameworks important to geographical thought: nature and society; spatial identities; and geopolitics. Extreme violence is often closely associated with humanity’s failure to overcome human nature. These are fundamentally geographical concerns in the sense that they relate to geography’s central interest in humans and their environment. Scholarly works abound with Hobbesian images, often presenting primitive violence as a pervasive social condition in the absence of an effective ruler. The literature on state failure presumes the same contradiction between nature and the social-political order, but in reverse: without a conventional sovereign, social conflict emerges over basic resources. These theories suggest that the causes of extreme political violence can be identified at the intersection of nature and society, where human behavior cannot be extricated from its biological and environmental condition. Identity is understood primarily as cultural difference. Identities are an important element in any explanation of extreme political violence given that it stems from conflict between sociopolitical groups that are defined by some degree of cultural difference. Classical geopolitical analysis of extreme political violence has retained environmental and biological factors as ultimate causes. They assume that scarcity of resources and population growth drive culture, territorialism, and conflict. In contrast, contemporary and critical approaches focus on the language and action of politics, such as statecraft, diplomacy, and popular mobilization.