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Approaches to understanding atrocity in the Sierra Leonean Civil War (1991-2002)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This study examines instances of atrocity and extreme violence in civil wars, focussing specifically on the case of conflict which took place in Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002. It outlines and identities a gap in existing analysis of violence with regard to addressing seemingly irrational atrocities that cannot readily be understood as the outcome of calm calculations of self-interest by perpetrators, nor simply as the manifestation of sheer madness or anarchy. Incorporating a broad disciplinary approach to the study of violence, this study draws on existing witness and victim accounts of atrocity and extensive original material from interviews with perpetrators. It refocuses attention on the neglected role of emotions such as shame and disgust, and the psychological processes and systems of brutalisation, that promoted violence which was both irrational but inspired by and utilised for rational ends. This provides greater understanding of apparently ‘senseless’ forms of violence.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Jul 2013


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