SNF Agora Faculty Seminars: Aliza Luft

Part of our SNF Agora Faculty Seminars, AY 21-22
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  • Aliza Luft 
  • Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at UCLA
  • Paper title: “Moral Shifting: Social Perception, Dehumanization, and The Plasticity of Moral Judgments About Violence”

This talk is about dehumanization and how people shift their judgments of violent actions from morally bad to morally neutral by shifting their judgments of victims. Crucially, however, and through qualitative analysis of interviews with Hutu who participated in the Rwandan genocide, I find that dehumanization did not cause Hutu to harm Tutsi but rather emerged because of ongoing participation in violence. This finding challenges existing research and common assumptions that dehumanization is necessary for people to kill. Rather, it suggests that people can act in ways that counter their moral values, including actions that are violent, but through ongoing participation in such actions, their values can change. Moreover, one mechanism that facilitates such change is a change in judgments of victims. Judgments of actions and judgments of people go hand-in-hand.


About the Speaker:

Aliza Luft is an assistant professor at UCLA in the Department of Sociology. For over 15 years, she has conducted qualitative interview and survey-based research as well as archival and experimental analyses on how people make decisions about violence, especially in extreme contexts such as genocide. Committed to the rigors of empirical research as well as sharing her findings with a broad audience, Luft has published in numerous academic journals and popular media on decision-making in genocide, authoritarianism and resistance, moral cognition, dehumanization, and the ethical complications of researching violence. She is currently completing a book under contract with Harvard University Press. Prior to beginning her job at UCLA, she worked for USAID, United Nations CTED, the Transitional Justice Data Base, Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies, and Facing History & Ourselves.