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Toward a Dynamic Theory of Action at the Micro Level of Genocide


This article is about behavioral variation in genocide. Research frequently suggests that violent behaviors can be explained by or treated as synonymous with ethnic categories. This literature also tends to pre-group actors as perpetrators, victims, or bystanders for research purposes. However, evidence that individuals cross boundaries from killing to desistance and saving throughout genocide indicates that the relationship between behaviors and categories is often in flux. I thus introduce the concept of behavioral boundary crossing to examine when and how Hutu in 1994 Rwanda aligned with the killing behaviors expected of them and when and how they did not. I analyze interviews with 31 Hutu, revealing that transactional, relational, social-psychological, and cognitive mechanisms informed individuals’ behaviors during the genocide. The result is a dynamic theory of action that explains participation without homogenizing individual experience due to presumptions about behavioral and categorical alignment.

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