conf nicolas mariot

Motivations for mass violence: different interpretations


Nicolas Mariot, chercheur au CNRS, est spécialiste de sociologie historique. Il a travaillé, avec Claire Zalc, sur l’histoire de la communauté juive de Lens des années 1930 aux années 1950. Il s’agissait de retracer les itinéraires et choix d’un ensemble de 991 individus, 350 familles, face aux persécutions dont elles ont été l’objet. Il est l’un des co-organisateurs du séminaire « Histoire et historiographie de la Shoah » à l’EHESS. Il s’est intéressé depuis aux rapports sociaux dans les tranchées de la Grande Guerre. Nicolas Mariot travaille actuellement sur une étude comparée des violences de masse au XXe siècle.

The conference – debate, was held on Thursday, October 3rd, 2019, at 6 pm, at MSF, 8 rue Saint Sabin.

What turns ordinary men into killers? The CRASH team organized a conference – debate with the sociologist and historian Nicolas Mariot, author of an article entitled « Faut-il être motivé pour tuer ? Sur quelques explications aux violences de guerre » (Genèses, n°53, 2003, p. 154-177) and books such as  “Face à la persécution. 991 Juifs dans la guerre (with Claire Zalc, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2010), “Tous unis dans la tranchée ? 1914-1918, les intellectuels rencontrent le peuple (Paris, Seuil, 2013). 

Nicolas Mariot presented two differing interpretations of motivations for mass violence in the 20th century, drawn from a series of studies and surveys on the subject. 

The first interpretation is culturalist. It suggests that massacres are motivated by hate due to racism, antisemitism, nationalism, fundamentalism, etc. This suggestion that the motivation for killing is rooted in a culture of hate has convinced a broad public. Some journalists and political personalities find scientific credibility in a vision of the world that reduces mass violence (in Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan) to  identity-based conflicts between radicalised groups opposed to each other on the simple basis of cultural, ethnic and religious differences.  

The second interpretation is situational. It looks at the specific places and times at which massacres occurred. Without denying the role played by fervour, it highlights the ability of political rationales, group effects and collective conditioning to turn ordinary men into killers: pressure from groups of “friends”, local or family solidarity, micro-local rivalries, etc.

These subjects are relevant to the analyses of situations in which we work.

To cite this content :
Nicolas Mariot, “Motivations for mass violence: different interpretations”, 3 octobre 2019, URL :

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