Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Political Science

Committee Chair(s)

Veronica Ward


Veronica Ward


David Goetze


Christopher Conte


Over the course of the 20th century genocide has been responsible for the murder of more than 170 million people; it is has proven to be four times deadlier than war (Voth, 2007). Although it often appears spontaneous, Genocide is instead a result of certain preconditions. Studies into the causes of genocide ought to aid in the formation of methods intended to keep violence from occurring. Unfortunately, seemingly different factors such as economic crisis, resource scarcity, institutional weakness, and ethnic resentment prove difficult to classify as the ultimate cause. Instead these conditions work collectively to create an atmosphere that is conducive to the emergence of genocidal behaviors. These preconditions can be specific to the cultures in which they arise; however there exists a continuity with which genocide may be characterized. All these conditions may be exacerbated by the common existence of a norm entrepreneur. For the purpose of this paper, a norm entrepreneur is an individual that holds some appearance of power which he/she uses to create or recreate social/societal norms through which polarizing attitudes are formed. In the case of genocide, these individuals may use a variety of methods intended to foster an atmosphere of hate. I argue that norm entrepreneurs are a catalyst to the emergence and growth of specific norms; and in the case of genocide, they are a necessary precursor to group polarization and ethnic violence. While the presence of a norm entrepreneur is merely one of many factors that contribute to the proliferation of polarizing attitudes and behaviors, he/she is the trigger to the emergence of genocidal violence.

To begin I define the role of the norm entrepreneur while also describing how he/she may alter individual and group behavior. Following are a series of studies that demonstrate how a norm entrepreneur may influence an individual or group to commit acts of genocide. For example, the results of Philip Zimbardo’s study Diary of an Abandoned Automobile speak to the context of anonymity and the role it plays in the appearance of evil behaviors (Zimbardo, 2007). Also, Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment illustrates that an individual may single-­‐handedly create an environment in which evil behaviors may arise while simultaneously displays how the arbitrary creation of groups can lead to in-­‐group/out-­‐group polarization and dehumanization (Zimbardo, 2007). Moreover, the results of Stanley Milgram’s experiment on obedience indicate that individuals are more likely to participate in evil actions when under the command of an authority figure (Milgram, 1974). This is pertinent in that my hypothesis assumes that norm entrepreneurs must possess some semblance of power in order for their norms to experience the cascading effect necessary for them to become a part of the social fabric (Finnemore, 1998). Although it is difficult to prove the efficacy of a norm entrepreneur to alter group behavior, I discuss these studies in an attempt to further link the possibility of an individual to intensify polarized attitudes to such a point that genocide may occur.

Next I discuss the Rwandan genocide prior to which, the existence of norm entrepreneurs appears to have been a necessary precursor. In Rwanda a series of endorsements made by President Habyarimana clearly condoned the use of violence against the Tutsi population. His lack of concern over the distribution of thousands of machetes indicated that violence was not only the answer, it was appropriate. In fact, many political figures sanctioned the use of violence against the Tutsi population; this allowed for a diffusion of responsibility among the Hutu participants. Much scholarship exists as to the causes of the Rwandan genocide; however, I argue that the presence of norm entrepreneurs is what exacerbated pre-­‐existing tension caused by ethnic disparity and food scarcity to a point where genocide became inevitable. Accordingly, in his book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Dr. Philip Zimbardo commented, “Human beings are capable of totally abandoning their humanity for a mindless ideology, to follow and then exceed the orders of charismatic authorities to destroy everyone they label as “The Enemy” (Zimbardo, 2007).


This work made publicly available electronically on April 12, 2012.