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« Integrating Genocide and the Urban | Main | Tracing Intent »

More On Intent

I am not convinced that there is "no way around this problem". There are many places in which we might see acknowledgements of the analytic unreliability of notions of intent and corresponding attempts to move beyond it:

  • Genocide scholars have, for a long time, found convincing accounts of why and how to move beyond discussions of intent. See in this regard Shaw's discussion of the problem of intent in chapter 6 of his What is Genocide. Even Raphael Lemkin preferred to avoid the concept of intent - instead preferring to define genocide as a 'coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.' That actions having aims was transformed by the drafters of the genocide convention into actors having intent is more transcription error than a necessary step forward in analysis.
  • The law only acknowledges intent as an aggravating factor - guilt is established only by reference to facts deemed to be independently verifiable.
  • Economic theory tends to discard intent and model behaviour in ideal terms.
  • Many social analyses base their conclusions on the effect an action has, not what its possible origin might be since the latter might be all but impossible to trace in anything but the most simplified of social circumstances (e.g., how can I really be sure 'my' intention is really my own?).

I think this may be a 'thick' methodological difference between us. But rather than arguing whether we must, or must not, take intent into account, I would like to ask a different question: what do we gain when we take intent into account? How would it help in constructing a theory of urban destruction?

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