Lens on Life
Genocide scholar Adam Jones, BA, 88, PhD’ 99, balances the serious nature of his research with prolific travel, and photography that captures the human dignity present in everyday life.
Adam Jones plans his work in five-year cycles, re-evaluating his strategy as he goes. Like most polymaths, he enjoys warming multiple projects on the back burner while he’s still cooking up the main course. A self-described “happy globetrotter,” Jones has visited 103 countries so far, capturing thousands of local faces in his photography, while still finding time to write about music, media, politics, and of course, travel. “I am never as happy as when I have a bag slung over my shoulder,” he says, “and I’m leaving some shoe rubber somewhere on the other side of the world.”
His speech patterns reflect this joie de vivre; the words tumble out of his mouth in a waterfall of questions and answers, and he seems entirely capable of carrying on a dialogue with himself. Like his photography, his conversation style is upbeat, celebratory, and life-affirming. It would be easy to believe he doesn’t have a serious bone in his body – not something you’d expect from one of the most prolific genocide scholars in the world.
A professor of political science at the UBC Okanagan campus since 2007, Jones teaches courses on African politics, human rights, mass media, gender and international relations, politics in film, and crimes against humanity. His photography and academic pursuits scan like two sides of the same coin, recording small moments of human dignity on film while studying its assault in the largest of contexts.
“I think that [photography] is very much connected with my interest in human rights,” he says. “I find people fascinating. I find diverse societies fascinating; I’d like to see their livelihoods and interests protected rather than destroyed. It’s a kind of safety valve on both an intellectual and emotional level.”
Born in Singapore to British parents, Jones followed his father’s postings with the Royal Air Force before his family eventually settled in Vernon, BC, where he first took up photography for a photo-essay assignment in a junior-high journalism course. “I still remember the photo shoot I did – the collection was called The Dark Side of Vernon,” he laughs. “It was like piled-up broken bottles in alleyways, stuff that was challenging the image of Vernon as a sedate and pleasant place.”
Jones caught the travel bug early, continuing his education in Victoria, Shanghai and Singapore before settling at UBC for an undergraduate degree in history and international relations in 1986. After a stint at McGill for his master’s degree, he revisited UBC to complete his PhD in political science, studying political transitions and gender and ethnic conflict.
His interest in genocide came into focus in 1999, when a racial clash in Kosovo led to the deaths of thousands and displacement of millions, followed months later by 1400 civilian deaths in East Timor as the nation sought its independence from Indonesia.
Jones watched the Kosovo conflict unfold on television from Barcelona, where he was taking a break after completing his dissertation. But he couldn’t ignore the headlines, noticing in particular the selective targeting of
unarmed adult men – a phenomenon that feminist Mary Anne Warren had recently termed “gendercide.” The targeted killing of innocents according to gender, gendercide would become one of Jones’ many academic specialties as his career slowly took shape.
Despite its relative infancy as a scholarly topic, the act of genocide goes back to the earliest literature: Thucydides wrote about the Siege of Melos in 416, where the men were exterminated and the women and children sold into slavery; Homer recorded Agamemnon’s call for the annihilation of the Trojans “down to the babies in their mothers’ wombs”; and, of course, genocidal themes run throughout nearly all of the major religious works that have come down through the ages.
Although genocide is usually recognizable by the sheer numbers of victims, it is different than mass murder in kind rather than in scale. The targeted extermination of a population based on something that unites them – ethnicity, nationality, religious beliefs – genocide literally means “killing a race.” The term was coined near the end of WWII to describe the atrocities committed by Nazis against certain European groups, deeds that had been described to that point as “mass killings” or “crimes against humanity.” The first hint that the wanton extermination of an entire race was an especially evil act may have come in a 1941 radio broadcast by Winston Churchill, describing Hitler’s march across the blood-soaked Russian plains:
“As his armies advance, whole districts are being exterminated. Literally scores of thousands of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated by the German police troops upon the Russian patriots who defend their native soil. Since the Mongol invasions of Europe in the sixteenth century, there has never been methodical, merciless butchery on such a scale... We are in the presence of a crime without a name.”
The unthinkable act was finally termed in the 1943 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who barely escaped to Sweden ahead of Hitler’s forces. Lemkin, who would lose 49 relatives to
The first hint that the wanton extermination of an entire race was an especially evil act may have come in a 1941 radio broadcast by Winston Churchill, describing Hitler’s march across the blood‑soaked Russian plains
Hitler’s camps, campaigned tirelessly for genocide to be recognized as a particularly horrendous crime. In 1951, his efforts paid off with General Assembly Resolution 260, a United Nations convention that established genocide in legal terms, seeking to prevent its occurrence and hold accountable its perpetrators.
“But you didn’t really get the birth of any kind of notable academic exploration until the 1980s,” says Jones. “The exception of course is the Holocaust, and that was already being studied as the Holocaust rather than in a comparative genocide context. It was really the 1915 Armenian genocide that became the second case added, and then we got the genocides in former Yugoslavia and then 1994 in Rwanda. And that, I think, really catalyzed the field.”
With the recent advent of the 24-hour news cycle, the Rwanda genocide – in which 70 per cent of the ethnic Tutsi population was wiped out in 100 days by the Hutu majority – caught the attention of the West with a brutal detail to which most viewers were unaccustomed. The massacre of 800,000 unarmed civilians, many killed with machetes, brought the concept of genocide to the living room, and soon after to the classroom.
But it wasn’t just watching history unfold, it was also a re-examination of history long considered settled. Just two years earlier was the Columbus quincentenary – the 500th anniversary of his 1492 arrival in the Americas. “Connected with that event was a small but really significant flood of very potent writings about genocides of indigenous peoples,” Jones points out.
Adam Jones Photo: Albert Law
“Woman with Flowers on Street” Zadar, Croatia.