‘We will utterly destroy them… and we will go in and possess the land’: reflections on the role of civilian-driven violence in the making of settler genocides


  • Mohamed Adhikari University of Cape Town, South Africa




Settler colonial genocide, Civilian-driven violence


This article seeks, in necessarily limited ways, to shed light on a neglected area by exploring aspects of the dynamic behind civilian-driven violence in settler colonial situations globally. Although civilian-driven violence against indigenous peoples was both specific and congenital to frontier relations, and has been intrinsic to settler society after the closing of the frontier, the concept has not featured in any significant way in either genocide studies or investigations of settler conquest. The focus has instead largely been on the roles of metropolitan and colonial states and their military forces. Civilian-driven violence needs to be conceptualised as distinct from other forms – with dynamics and attributes of its own – to enable a more nuanced understanding of how exterminatory impulses toward indigenous peoples have developed in settler colonial situations. This investigation is thus interested both in how civilians organised themselves to commit mass violence against indigenes and in the ways civilian, military, and non-military state structures overlapped, collaborated, and supported one another in the perpetration of genocidal violence against indigenous peoples. The underlying question of why ‘ordinary’ people are so easily capable of perpetrating unspeakable atrocities, often with equanimity, is of course an extremely broad, highly complex, and multi-dimensional subject that one cannot hope to address in any comprehensive way in a piece of this kind. The intention, rather, is to put the issue on the radar screens of scholars working on settler colonial genocide.


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