Understanding perptetrators' use of music

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Eyewitness accounts of genocidal killing sometimes mention perpetrators’ use of musical practices, including singing and playing music, either before or during the act of killing. The standard response to explaining this is often to suggest that music makes killers more aggressive or simply drowns out other noise. Neither explanation stands up to closer analysis, however. Just as a number of studies have argued that perpetrators are “ordinary men,” the music used in such contexts is often surprisingly ordinary, and this in fact may be key to understanding its function. Drawing both on Perpetrator Studies and research into the use of music and collective violence, this chapter presents several examples, mostly from the Shoah, and suggests approaching them as strategies to frame and normalize violence and killing. The analysis is supported by reference to the longer history linking music and punishment rituals, as well as emerging theories in the sociology and anthropology of violence.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge International Handbook of Perpetrator Studies
EditorsSusanne C. Knittel, Zachary J. Goldberg
PublisherRoutledge Taylor & Francis Group
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781315102887
ISBN (Print)9781138103245
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2019

Publication series

NameRoutledge International Handbooks

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • genocide
  • music
  • Holocaust
  • National Socialism
  • genocide studies
  • anthropology of violence
  • perpetrators
  • sociology of violence
  • ritual


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