Engineering Violence
Bhupinder Brar
FORMS OF COLLECTIVE VIOLENCE: RIOTS, POGROMS, AND GENOCIDE IN MODERN INDIA by Paul Brass Three Essays Collective, 2007, 184 pp., 250
March 2007, volume 31, No 3

Paul Brass had already published fifteen books before he came out with this relatively slim volume late last year, most of them on ethnic politics and violence in South Asia, an area of research to which he had devoted almost his entire academic career of well over four decades. Not surprisingly, his reputation as a persistent and prolific writer on the subject was already well established. So was his stature as a perceptive and penetrating scholar, thanks to the depth of his scholarship. So what is new about this volume? An honest answer would be: not a great deal, if we keep in mind the work he had produced particularly in the previous ten or fifteen years. These years had seen an increasing shift in his attitude as a scholar, a shift that is best described in his own words: ‘Those who are familiar with my previous work know that I do not take a detached stance in my writings on the subject of collective violence. I strive for social science objectivity, but I do not hide my passion or anger.’

The present volume carries that shift further, for this time the passion comes through even more clearly. Revolting against the ‘misguided efforts’ of what he calls ‘pseudo-science’, Brass now provokes the reader to think not as a social scientist but as a concerned citizen. The size and the format make the book more accessible to such a non-specialist reader. Brass is angry at mainstream social science literature on collective violence. This literature, he believes, has the tendency to turn overly psychologistic.

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