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UW-Madison political science professor Scott Straus has won the 2018 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order for his book “Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa.”
The University of Louisville presents the $100,000 award annually for outstanding works in ideas improving world order, psychology, education, music composition and, in conjunction with Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, religion. The Ideas Improving World Order award is a major honor in the field of political science, with roughly 50 nominations sent from around the world each year, says award director Charles Ziegler.
In Making and Unmaking Nations, Straus – who specializes in the study of genocide, political violence, human rights and African politics – explains how ideas and political messages can become tipping points for genocide. His research examines patterns and circumstances that have resulted in genocide and contrasts those with similar situations where genocide seemed likely to happen but did not.
“The book is about trying to understand how and why genocide happens,” Straus says. “The premise is to examine not just those cases where it did but also near misses. In doing so, I sought to isolate the dynamics and factors that distinguish genocide cases from non-genocide cases, and from there to develop a general theory of genocide.”
“Straus’s work alerts us to the circumstances under which genocide emerges and he identifies key points when action by national leaders, and efforts by the international community, can halt the slide into mass violence,” Ziegler says.
Straus became interested in genocide while working as a journalist in the mid-1990s covering the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda and a related ward in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In his 13 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he has taught several courses on genocide and related topics and is grateful for the students who have shown interest in the subject. Straus worked on Making and Unmaking Nations for nearly a decade, with support including Vilas Associates and H.I Romnes Faculty Fellowship awards.
“I am very pleased that the award committee chose a book about genocide for its selection on improving world order,” Straus says. “There are many pressing global challenges. To me, understanding and preventing genocide remains a global priority, but I worry that such a view is not widely shared. The award, I hope, will bring renewed attention to the topic.”