A Brief History
I am Professor of Political Science at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, where I have been since 2007. From 2002 to 2007, I was a Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer in the Political Studies Department, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. From 1999 to 2002 I was Assistant Visiting Professor in the Social Sciences at the Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Paris - Graduate School of Management. Before this I was a deputy editor and book reviews editor at Millenium: Journal of International Studies. I have a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science which I attended as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. I also hold an MA in Political Science from the University of Ottawa, and a BA from Carleton University. I live in Guelph near the University campus with my wife Dana, our son Gulliver, and our dog Blackie.
My Work to Date
- Much of my previous research has focused on nationalism and identity politics, a subfield of International Relations. This intersects with the study of genocide and ethnic conflict, which has more historical and sociological dimensions.
- My first book sought to understand how the Americanization (or cosmopolitanization) of the Jewish Holocaust and its accompanying imagery has been used by national and sub-national groups seeking to achieve greater internal cohesion, while mobilizing their populations to achieve collective goals, anything from state apologies and compensation to territorial aggrandizement. At one level, the Holocaust privileges marginalized groups and their claims for justice or redress at national and international levels. It reframes group history, and promotes the belief that vulnerable groups have the right to ensure their security in a hostile environment. The Americanization process has influenced identity politics, from American Indians, and Serbs and Croats, to more recent attempts by American conservatives to redefine anti-Americanism, promoting their country’s vulnerability and new-found mission after 9/11.
- However, as my research has shown, there is a twin danger involved. Many groups who use the Holocaust end up trivializing its imagery and belittling its victims, while ironically decontextualizing their own histories in the process. During field research in the former Yugoslavia during 1994 and 1999, I tried to solve the puzzle of why actors assiduously claimed victim status, while simultaneously engaging in ethnic cleansing and other war crimes. His first critically acclaimed book Balkan holocausts? (Manchester University Press, 2002), critiqued the widespread use of Holocaust imagery, while examining how the history of Serbian-Croatian relations was rewritten during the 1990s. The “borrowing” of Holocaust imagery reflected the success of its Americanization, and its emergence in popular discourse as a symbol for absolute evil. Claims to victimhood performed an instrumental function. They rallied co-nationals behind the government. Internationally, such claims helped confuse outside observers, leading to myths of “ancient ethnic hatreds” which helped Western leaders avoid plunging too deeply into the conflict.
- I went on to lead a team of scholars within the “Scholar’s Initiative”, created by Professor Charles Ingrao at Purdue University . This is an international project of historians and social scientists, attempted to write an impartial history of the conflict. I acted as team leader of “Living Together or Hating Each Other?”. Here, the team attempted to understand how perceptions of vulnerability and fear of outsiders helped provoke conflict, while exploring the role new narratives can play in promoting healing and reconciliation. The report concluded with a healthy skepticism about the likelihood of overcoming strongly held animosities in the near future, especially when nationalist oriented political parties and media institutions continue to exert tremendous influence in public life.
- My second book, Identity Politics in the Age of Genocide (Routledge, 2008), examined how Holocaust Americanization impacted on other ethnic and social groups. The book featured theoretical chapters about the Holocaust’s use/misuse by ethnic and social groups, and dissected claims of Holocaust uniqueness (with analysis of fourteen arguments). I follow this with case studies of how Americanization has impacted on indigenous historical representation in America , Australia , and New Zealand , and amongst Diaspora Chinese, Armenians, and Serbs. Certainly, invoking the Holocaust helps draw public attention to a group’s claims. However, as Idemonstrated, there is a twin danger involved. Many groups who use the Holocaust end up trivializing its imagery and belittling its victims, while ironically decontextualizing their own histories in the process.
- My most recent book Thinking History, Fighting Evil (Lexington / Rowman & Littlefield, 2009) applied my theoretical work to the study of American domestic and foreign policy. The presents the most thorough exploration to date of how World War II analogies, particularly those focused on the Holocaust, have colored American foreign policy-making after 9/11. In particular, the book highlighted how influential neoconservatives inside and outside the Bush administration used analogies of the “Good War” to reinterpret domestic and international events, often with disastrous consequences. Divided into eight chapters, Thinking History, Fighting Evil engages with timely issues such as the moral legacies of the civil rights era, identity politics movements, the representation of the Holocaust in American life, the rise of victim politics on the neoconservative right, the instrumentalization of anti-American and anti-Semitic discourses, the trans-Atlantic rift between Europe and the U.S., and the war on terror. While the book focuses on the post-9/11 security environment, it also explores the history of negative exceptionalism in U.S. history and politics, tracing back Manichean conceptions of good and evil to the foundation of the early colonies.
SSHRCC standard grant for the project “Indigenous History and the UN Genocide Convention in Canada and Australia”.
The grant has four principle aims:
- To outline the extent to which the UN Genocide Convention has been incorporated into domestic laws in Canada and Australia, and to identify tensions between domestic legislation and international law. To examine the arguments of those seeking to advance claims of genocide, and to comment on how different judicial approaches to statutory interpretation and incorporation of the Convention influences the success of failure of these claims.
- To critically examine arguments for and against the proposition that aspects of government sponsored assimilation policies in Australia and Canada might be seen as “genocidal”. To determine whether existing Australian claims of genocide (from 1997) are tenable under international law, and whether such findings can help more accurately interpret the Canadian system.
- To explore indigenous understandings of genocide and the UN Convention through interviews, focus groups, and surveys. This will inform the project and allow a better understanding of indigenous beliefs and cultural responses to their experiences.
- Potential government responses to contravention of the UNGC will be discussed, including government sponsored reconciliation, restitution, and memorialization.