Rice grains on a plate.

Famines as mass atrocities: Reconsidering Violence, Memory and Justice in Relation to Hunger

Research project
Active research
Project period
2019 - 2023
Project owner
School of Global Studies

Swedish Research Council

Short description

Although famines have killed staggering numbers of people, they are usually not conceptualized as mass-violence. Victims are rarely commemorated and actors responsible are not held accountable – despite the fact that famines are largely man-made. The project analyses the attempts and possibilities to pursue remembrance and justice after mass-starvation. By looking at famines in Africa, Asia and Europe, we ask under what conditions, how and by whom famines are understood, remembered and dealt with as mass-atrocities. We also look at contemporary initiatives to push for remembrance and justice for hunger deaths, for instance by intergovernmental organizations, civil society groups, legal professionals, victim groups and states.

Special issue - Memory and justice after famines

Famines in the Global South have claimed staggering numbers of lives, but are rarely the focus of scholarship on, or practices of, memorialisation and justice. The articles in this collection investigate how past famines have been dealt with – or silenced – in Cabo Verde, China, Brazil, East Timor/Timor-Leste, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Nigeria and Rwanda. This introductory essay first discusses why famines and hunger should be conceptualised as violence and mass atrocities, caused by human action. Thereafter, we outline some of the main insights that have emerged from the collection of articles. We show how and why mass starvation is often written out of official accounts of history, famine victims are rarely publicly commemorated and those responsible are not brought to justice.

Click on the link to the right to get to the special issue in Third World Quarterly.

Below are links to all articles published in the special issue.

If you want to read more about processes of accountability, memorialization – or forgetting – after famines, we have put together some recommendations below. There is much more out there, but these are works that we find particularly worthwhile reading. In addition to this, we of course also recommend the articles in our special issue (see above).