Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor's Name

John F. Clark

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Co-Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Harry D. Gould

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Co-Chair

Third Advisor's Name

Hannibal Travis

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Richard S. Olson

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fifth Advisor's Name

Oren B. Stier

Fifth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


Genocide, Mass Political Violence, The Holocaust, Rwanda, Soviet Union, ISIS, Cambodia, Congo, China, Chinese Civil War, Darfur

Date of Defense



This dissertation presents a new conceptual framework for understanding genocide and mass political violence. I build upon existing theories of mass violence that take into account motivations for committing mass atrocities, combine these with the task of counting civilian casualties, and propose a new framework based on the perpetrators’ socio-political standing in society. This model develops a four-part typology of perpetrators by examining the level of government participation and societal participation in the process of violence. Four patterns of perpetrators emerge from this deductive assessment of large-scale violence. These mass political violence perpetrator categories are: a) state perpetrators; b) state-society coalitions; c) state-sponsored groups; and d) non-state actors. Based on the evidence and analysis in this dissertation I found four central conclusions. First, perpetrator type implicitly limits the scope of violence and target group(s). Second, when assessing the severity and destructive power of each perpetrator category, we must use both absolute and relative thresholds. Neither on its own is sufficient for understanding why and how perpetrators target and eliminate vast segments of society. Third, based on this typological framework, there are variations between perpetrator categories (i.e., state perpetrators and state-society coalitions) and there is variation within each perpetrator category. The final conclusion is that scholars must question the so-called unitary role of the state when theorizing about genocide and mass political violence perpetrators. The role of state and society is not unitary nor as parsimonious as previous theories of mass violence suggest.





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