Sociology of the Holocaust ma option in Social and Political Thought Robert Fine 27 Spring Term 2009

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Sociology of the Holocaust
MA Option in Social and Political Thought
Robert Fine B1.27
Spring Term 2009
This course takes up the challenges posed by Zygmunt Bauman to develop a sociological understanding of the Holocaust and explore the significance of the Holocaust for our understanding of sociology. It addresses Bauman’s proposition that the Holocaust represents not so much the breakdown of modernity but its inner potentiality. Among the questions we examine are the following:
Why we do use the name ‘Holocaust’ or ‘Shoah’?

How does the idea of ‘totalitarianism’ help us understand the Holocaust?

What is meant by the idea of ‘crimes against humanity’?

Why has modern antisemitism been such a powerful political force?

What is the relation between the Holocaust and other modern genocides?

What can we learn from the Holocaust about the capacity of ordinary men to commit extraordinary atrocities?

What sense does it make to use the concepts of ‘radical evil’ and ‘banality of evil’ in understanding and responding to the Holocaust?

Why cannot there be poetry after Auschwitz?

How does the Holocaust test the limits of representation?

Is there such a thing as a ‘Holocaust industry’?

Course Requirements

The seminars are discussion-based. Each week one or two students will introduce the discussions based on the readings in question. Please come and see us for further background and secondary readings. Please note that an important aspect of the training you receive in this and other modules on the MA is to do your own searches in the library and elsewhere. All students on the module introduce at least one session. Essay titles may be discussed and determined between the module tutors and the students and developing your own essay question can be an important aspect of what you learn in this module. The question must be approved by the module tutor. The essay must be 5000 words long plus or minus 20% including bibliography and footnotes. It must be word-processed and double-spaced. Sample essay titles from previous years may be had from Chris Wilson, the graduate secretary. The curriculum and outline are subject to further modification in the course of the term.

Module Outline

Week 2: Modernity and the Holocaust

Presenter: Neil Baxter

Core texts

Zygmunt Bauman: Modernity and the Holocaust, Cambridge, Polity, 1991 (Introduction, ch1 ‘Sociology after the Holocaust’, ch2 ‘Modernity, racism, extermination’).

Additional reading

Fine, Robert and Hirsh, David ‘The decision to commit a crime against humanity’ in M Archer and J Tritter Rational Choice Theory: Resisting Colonization, London: Routledge 2000, pp. 183-199.

Fine, Robert and Turner, Charles (eds), Social Theory after the Holocaust, Liverpool University Press, 2000, ‘Introduction’
Bartov, Omer Murder in our Midst: The Holocaust, Industrial Killing, and Representation, OUP, 1996. ‘Introduction: The past and present of militarised genocide’
Bartov, Omer Mirrors of Destruction: War, Genocide and Modern Identity ch 1 ‘Fields of Glory’

Browning, Christopher The Path to Genocide: Essays on Launching the Final Solution Cambridge University Press 1992 ch 1 ‘Nazi resettlement policy’ and ch6 ‘Bureaucracy and mass murder’

Herf, Jeffrey Reactionary Modernism: Technology Culture and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich Cambridge University Press 1984
Bauman, Zygmunt: Modernity and Ambivalence, Cambridge: Polity, 1991, ch,1
Bauman, Zygmunt The Bauman Reader ed. By Peter Beilharz, Blackwell, ch.s 7 and 8
Smith, Dennis Zygmunt Bauman: Prophet of Postmodernity Cambridge: Polity, 1999, ch. 8
Bauer, Yehuda Rethinking the Holocaust¸Yale University Press, 2002, ch4 ‘Overall interpretations: Bauman, Herf, Aly’

Week 3: Totalitarianism and the Holocaust

Presenter: Sandhya Duggal

Core texts

Arendt, Hannah Origins of Totalitarianism, Harcourt Brace, 1979, ch.12 `Totalitarianism in power’

Arendt, Hannah Essays in Understanding , selected papers
Additional reading

Bernstein, Richard Hannah Arendt and the Jewish Question, Polity Press, 1996, ch. 4 ‘The descent into hell’

Villa, Dana (1999) Politics, Philosophy, Terror: Essays on the thought of Hannah Arendt, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Fine, Robert (2000) ‘Hannah Arendt: Politics and Understanding after the Holocaust’ in R Fine and C Turner (ed.s) Social Theory after the Holocaust, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press

Fine, Robert Political Investigations: Hegel, Marx, Arendt, London: Routledge, 2001, ch.6 ‘Totalitarianism and the rational state’.
Canovan, Margaret Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of her Political Thought, ch. ‘Totalitarianism’, Cambridge: CUP 1992
Hansen, Phillip Hannah Arendt: Politics, History and Citizenship, Polity, 1993, ch4 'Totalitarianism'.
Isaac, Jeffrey Arendt, Camus and Modern Rebellion, Yale 1992, ch2 'Totalitarianism and the intoxication of power'.
Hinchman, Lewis and Sandra Hannah Arendt: Critical Essays, part one, 'Totalitarianism and Evil'
Lefort, Claude ‘The concept of totalitarianism’ Warwick and Sussex papers in social theory 2, 1998, pp. 1–28

Week 4: Experience and Understanding: the Camps

Presenter: TBA

Core text

Levi, Primo If This is a Man, 1958, Abacus

Additional reading

Levi, Primo (1986a) The Drowned and the Saved, London: Abacus.

Langer, Lawrence Pre-empting the Holocaust Yale University Press 1998 ch. 2 ‘Legacy in Gray: The ordeal of Primo Levi’
H G Adler, ‘Ideas toward a Sociology of the concentration camp’, The American Journal of Sociology LXIII No. 5 (1958), 513-522
Jeremy Adler, ‘Good Against Evil? H.G..Adler, T.W. Adorno and the Representation of the Holocaust’, in R Fine and C Turner Social Theory after the Holocaust, Liverpool: LUP, 2000.

Robert Jan van Pelt and Deborah Dwork Auschwitz 1270 to the present, New Haven: Yale 1996, ch.10 ‘The Holocaust’

Wolfgang Sofsky The order of terror: the concentration camp, trans. By William Templer, Princeton University Press, 1977, part 1 ‘Introduction’

Todorov, Tzvetan Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps London: Phoenix 2000 ’A place for moral lies’

Borowski, T. This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen

Wiesel, Elie Night, Penguin 1981.
Améry, Jean (1989) ‘At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities’ (originally published in 1966), in Roth, John and Berenbaum, Michael (ed.s) Holocaust: Religious and Philosophical Implications, New York: Paragon House.

Anissimov, Myriam Primo Levi: Tragedy of an Optimist , Aurum Press 1998.

See also readings under week 8.

Weeks 5 and 6: The banality of evil: Hannah Arendt’s ‘Eichmann’

Presenters: Rodrigo Cordero (week 5), Erdem Aykut, Izzy Gutteridge (week 6)

Core reading

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Penguin, 1977 At least chs.2, 15, Epilogue and Postscript

Additional reading

Arendt, Hannah and Jaspers, Karl (1992) Correspondence 1926-1969, New York, Harcourt Brace.

Bernstein, Richard Hannah Arendt and the Jewish Question, Polity Press, 1996, chs. 7 and 8
Cesarini, David Eichmann: His Life and Crimes, Heinemann, 2004.
Douglas, Lawrence The Memory of Judgment: Making Law and History in the Trials of the Holocaust , Yale University Press, 2001 especially Part 2 ‘Eichmann’
Fine, Robert ‘Crimes against humanity: Hannah Arendt and the Nuremberg Trials’, European Journal of Social Theory, 3,3, 2000, pp. 293-311.
Fine, Robert ‘Understanding evil: Arendt and the Final Solution’ in Maria Pia Lara (ed) Rethinking Evil: Contemporary Perspectives, University of California Press 2001
Fine, Robert Cosmopolitanism ch6 ‘Cosmopolitanism and Punishment’, Routledge 2007
Finkielkraut, Alain (1992) Remembering in Vain, New York: Columbia University Press.

Jaspers, Karl (1961) The Question of German Guilt New York: Capricorn Books.

Lara, Maria Pia (ed.) Rethinking Evil, LA: University of California Press, 2001, ch.s5 and 9

Norrie, Alan ‘Justice on the Slaughter-Bench: The Problem of War Guilt in Arendt and Jaspers’ New Criminal Law Review 11, 2, Spring 2008.

Rabinbach, Anson In the Shadow of Catastrophe: German Intellectuals between Apocalypse and Enlightenment, University of California Press, 1997, ch4 ‘The German as Pariah: Karl Jaspers’ The Question of German Guilt’
Salter, Michael ‘The visibility of the holocaust: Franz Neumann and the Nuremberg Trials’, in R Fine and C Turner, Social Theory after the Holocaust, Liverpool: LUP, 2000

Week 7: Reading and Research Week

Week 8 Ordinary men, ordinary Germans: Historical Debates

Presenter: David Lo

Core reading

Browning, Christopher Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, HarperCollins 1992.

Additional reading

Christopher Browning: The Path to Genocide: Essays on Launching the Final Solution, Cambridge 1992, Ch 6 `Bureaucracy and Mass Murder'.

Goldhagen, Daniel, Hitler’s Willing Executioners,
Hilberg, Raul: `Significance of the Holocaust' in H Friedlander and S Milton: The Holocaust: Ideology, Bureaucracy and Genocide, Kraus 1980.
Hilberg, Raul: The Destruction of the European Jews, New York, Holmes and Meier 1983, 3 vol.s
N Finkelstein, ‘Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s “crazy” thesis’, New Left Review, 224, 1997, 39-87
N Finkelstein and R Birn, A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth, New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1998

Week 9 Representing the Holocaust

Open discussion

Core film

Lansmann, Claude: Shoah, Video, 1985

Additional reading

LaCapra, Dominick History and Memory after Auschwitz, Cornell University Press 1998, ch 4 ‘Lanzmann’s Shoah’
Rose, Gillian Mourning becomes the law, ch.2 ‘Beginnings of the day: fascism and representation’
Hartman, Geoffrey The Longest Shadow: In the Aftermath of the Holocaust , ch.9
Hilberg, Raul: The Destruction of the European Jews, New York, Holmes and Meier 1983, 3 vol.s
Hilberg, Raul Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders, Secker and Warburg, London, 1995.
Garton Ash, Timothy The Uses of Adversity, Penguin, 1986, `The Life of Death’, pp. 109-129.

Felman, S. "Film as Witness: Claude Lanzmann's Shoah" in Hartman, G. (ed.) Holocaust Remembrance: The Shapes of Memory, Blackwell, 1994

Hirsch, M. and Spitzer, L. "Gendered Translations: Claude Lanzmann's Shoah" in Cooke, M. and Woollacott, A. (eds.) Gendering War Talk, Princeton University Press, 1993

Loshitzky, Y. "Holocaust Others: Spielberg's Schindler's List verses Lanzman's Shoah" in Loshitzky, Y. (ed.) Spielberg's Holocaust: Critical Perspectives on Schindler's List, Indiana University Press, 1997

Malcom, Derek ‘Claude Lanzmann: Shoah’, Guardian 14 Dec 2000,,411316,00.html

Young, James The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning, Yale University Press, 1993 ‘Introduction’

Young, James Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust, Indiana University Press 1988.

Bauman, Janina Winter in the morning: a young girl’s life in the Warsaw Ghetto and Beyond Virago, 1997

Reiter, Andrea Narrating the Holocaust London: European Jewish Publication Society ch.4 ‘The narrative of lived reality’
Langer, Lawrence Holocaust Testimonies
Langer, Lawrence Pre-empting the Holocaust, New Haven: Yale ch.2 ‘Legacy in grey: the ordeal of Primo Levi’
Huyssen, A. Twilight Memories

Week 10 Antisemitism and the Holocaust

Presenter: Madeleine Holland

Core reading

Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew, Grove Press, New York 1962, ch.s 1 and 2.
Judt, Tony Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 ‘Epilogue: From the House of the Dead: An Essay on Modern European Memory’ Penguin 2005
Fine, Robert ‘Post-antisemitism and Europe: wishing away the past’ Patterns of Prejudice forthcoming
Additional reading: Theorising European Antisemitism
Arendt, Hannah Origins of Totalitarianism Part One `Antisemitism’ ch1 `Antisemitism as an outrage to common sense’.
Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer: Dialectics of Enlightenment, Verso 1989, `Elements of anti-semitism: the limits of enlightenment', pp. 168 - 208
Adorno, Theodor Negative Dialectics, ‘After Auschwitz’
Bauman, Zygmunt Modernity and the Holocaust, ch.3.
Beller, Steven Antisemitism: A very short introduction Oxford University Press 2007
Cheyette, Brian Constructions of ‘the Jew’ in English Literature and Society 1875-1945 Cambridge University Press 1993.
Holmes, Colin Antisemitism in British Society 1876-1939 Edward Arnold 1979
Katz, Jacob, From Prejudice to Destruction: Antisemitism 1700-1933 Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.
Leon, Abram The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation, Pathfinder 1970.
Lyotard, Jean-Francois Heidegger and the `Jews’, Minnesota, 1990.
Pulzer, Peter The Rise of Political Antisemitism in Germany and Austria
Rabinbach, Anson In the Shadow of Catastrophe: German Intellectuals between Apocalypse and Enlightenment, University of California Press, 1997, ch5 ‘The cunning of unreason: the construction of antisemitism in Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment
Rose, Gillian Judaism and Modernity, Blackwell, 1994.
Rose, Paul Lawrence Revolutionary Antisemitism in Germany: From Kant to Wagner, Princeton University Press 1990
Winock, Michel Nationalism Antisemitism and fascism in France Stanford University Press 1998

Additional Reading: the politics of remembering, forgetting and denying

Bauer, Yehuda Rethinking the Holocaust¸ ch11 ‘From the Holocaust to the state of Israel’ Yale University Press, 2002,

Birn, R ‘Revising the holocaust’, The Historical Journal, 40, 1, 1997, 195-215
Butler, Judith Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence ‘The charge of antisemitism: Jews, Israel and the risks of public critique’ Verso 101-127
Evans, Richard J. Telling Lies about Hitler Verso 2002.
Finkielkraut, Alain Au Nom de L’autre: Reflexions sure ‘’antisemitisme qui vient, Gallimard 2003
Finkelstein, Norman ‘The Holocaust Industry’, London Review of Books, December 1999
Hirsh, David ‘Antizionism and antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections’ Working Paper, Yale Intitivative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, 2007
Hoffman, Eva After Such Knowledge: A Meditation on the aftermath of the Holocaust ch1 ‘From event to fable’
Kushner, Tony The Holocaust and the Liberal Imagination: A Social and Cultural History Blackwell 1994
Levy, Bernard-Henri Ce Grand Cadavre a la Renverse, ch5 ‘Neo-antisemitisme’, Grasset 2007
Lipstadt, Deborah Denying the Holocaust: the growing assault on truth and memory. New York: Plume 1994.

Lipstadt, Deborah E. History on trial: my day in court with David Irving. New York, N.Y: ECCO 2005.

Novick, Peter The Holocaust and Collective Memory: The American Experience, London: Bloomsbury 1999.
Rose Jacqueline The Last Resistance ch 14 ‘Holocaust Premises: With Judith Butler’ Verso 214-222
Seymour, David Law, Antisemitism and the Holocaust, Glasshouse 2007

Some further reading

General history
Lucy Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews 1933-45, Penguin 1983.
Lucy Dawidowicz (ed.), A Holocaust Reader, Behrman House 1976.
Lucy Dawidowicz: The Holocaust and the Historians, Cambridge, Harvard 1981
Helen Fein: Accounting for Genocide: National response and Jewish victimisation during the Holocaust, Free Press, 1979.
Alex Grobman (ed.): Genocide. Critical Issues of the Holocaust, Los Angeles, Simon Wiesenthal Centre, 1983.
Stephen Katz, The Holocaust in Historical Context
Michael Marrus, The Holocaust in History, London, Univ Press of New England, 1987.
George Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: The Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich, Gorsset and Dunlap, 1964.
Richard Rubenstein and John Roth: Approaches to Auschwitz, SCM, 1987

Philosophy and antisemitism
Farias, Victor Heidegger and Nazism, Temple, 1989
Wolin, Richard The Politics of Being: The Political Thought of Martin Heidegger, Columbia 1990.
Wolin, Richard (ed.), The Heidegger Controversy: A Critical Reader, Columbia, 1991
Milchman, Alan and Rosenberg, Alan (eds.), Martin Heidegger and the Holocaust, Humanities, 1997.

Sample assessed essay questions

  1. Bauman declared a ‘gnawing suspicion that the Holocaust was more than an aberration; that it was in some sense a product of modernity’. What grounds did he have for this suspicion and how valid are they?

  2. Arendt declared that ‘all our political concepts and definitions … all our categories of thought and standards of judgement seem to explode in our hands the instant we try to apply them’ to the death camps. What grounds did she have for this claim and how valid are they?

  3. Primo Levi declared that his purpose in writing was never in doubt: ‘remembering is a duty… an act of war against fascism’. Discuss with reference to contemporary debates.

  4. Lipstadt used the term "soft-core denial" to refer to groups of people who, for example, refuse to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day unless equal time is given to anti-Muslim prejudice. What is meant by ‘soft core denial’ and how valid is the concept?

  5. Beller writes: ‘Antisemitism, as antisemitism, has... been completely discredited in respectable Western public opinion... The memory of the Holocaust has over the long term come to be a very effective inhibitor of antisemitic demagoguery’. What is the evidence for this view and how tenable is it?

  6. ‘The deeds were monstrous but the doers were ordinary men’. Discuss with reference to Holocaust perpetrators.

  7. In order to understand the Holocaust sociology has to borrow terms from other disciplines: international criminal law (‘crimes against humanity’), theology (‘radical evil’) and political science (‘totalitarianism’). Is this true and what does it say about sociology?

  8. A question to be determined in consultation between the student and the module convenor (Robert Fine)

Robert Fine

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