Naming Violence: A Critical Theory of Genocide, Torture, and Terrorism

Research output: Book/ReportBook


This book demonstrates why the imagination matters for political theory. It explores how narrative art, thought experiments and history can challenge and enlarge our existing ways of thinking about different types of violence: genocide, torture and terrorism. The book advances three broad claims about political theory, violence and the imagination. Firstly, it charts a middle course between the two most prominent approaches in contemporary political theory, namely moralism and realism. Secondly, the book adopts the framework of dynamic nominalism to make sense of the ways in which practices of conceptualizing violence interact with the reality of violence. Thirdly, I argue that political theory ought to contribute to societal and academic debates about violence by offering imaginative judgments as to which conceptualizations best serve the purpose of understanding and responding to violence.

Through its focus on the power of the imagination, the book adds a novel perspective to the current discussion around genocide, torture and terrorism. It concentrates on three ways in which the imagination can become engaged: storytelling, hypotheticals and genealogy. Storytelling can trigger what Ludwig Wittgenstein called “aspect-seeing”, which is crucial for comprehending when definitions of violence need to be expanded. I substantiate this claim through an analysis of two films that can help us see wartime rape as well as climate change as genocidal. Hypotheticals perform a different function: they are estrangement devices that shed new light on prevalent norms. By scrutinizing various strategies for constructing imaginary cases about torture, the book develops a framework for determining the merits of thought experiments. Finally, genealogy uncovers the history of ostensibly self-evident beliefs in order to reveal their contingency. Specifically, the book proposes that a feminist history of the concept of “innocence” has important implications for “object-focused” definitions of terrorism that emphasize the targets of violent attacks.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherColumbia University Press
Number of pages248
ISBN (Electronic)9780231547680
ISBN (Print)9780231188142
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sep 2018

Publication series

NameNew Directions in Critical Theory
PublisherColumbia University Press


  • political violence
  • torture
  • terrorism
  • genocide
  • political theory
  • moralism
  • realism


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