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States of Denial

Paperback / softback By Stanley Cohen
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Blocking out, turning a blind eye, shutting off, not wanting to know, wearing blinkers, seeing what we want to see .


. these are all expressions of 'denial'. Alcoholics who refuse to recognize their condition, people who brush aside suspicions of their partner's infidelity, the wife who doesn't notice that her husband is abusing their daughter - are supposedly 'in denial'. Governments deny their responsibility for atrocities, and plan them to achieve 'maximum deniability'. Truth Commissions try to overcome the suppression and denial of past horrors. Bystander nations deny their responsibility to intervene. Do these phenomena have anything in common? When we deny, are we aware of what we are doing or is this an unconscious defence mechanism to protect us from unwelcome truths? Can there be cultures of denial? How do organizations like Amnesty and Oxfam try to overcome the public's apparent indifference to distant suffering and cruelty? Is denial always so bad - or do we need positive illusions to retain our sanity?

States of Denial is the first comprehensive study of both the personal and political ways in which uncomfortable realities are avoided and evaded. It ranges from clinical studies of depression, to media images of suffering, to explanations of the 'passive bystander' and 'compassion fatigue'. The book shows how organized atrocities - the Holocaust and other genocides, torture, and political massacres - are denied by perpetrators and by bystanders, those who stand by and do nothing.

Product Details

Format: Paperback / softback, 360 pages Language: English
Dimension: 150 x 31 x 229mm ISBN10: 0745623921
Weight: 522g ISBN13: 9780745623924
Publication Date: 14 Dec 2000 Publisher: Polity Press

About Author

Stanley Cohen is at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author of numerous books, including Visions of Social Control (Polity, 1985), Folk Devils and Moral Panics:The Creation of the Mods and Rockers (1980), Against Criminology (1988) and Psychological Survival: The Experience of Long Term Imprisonment (1973).

Product Reviews


Congratulations to Stanley Cohen on winning the American Society of Criminology's International Division Award for outstanding publication of 2000-2001 for States of Denial! 'With images of disaster and atrocity raining down on us from every quarter, it's hard not to resort to a balming fatalism. Sociologist Stanley Cohen's timely book about how people and societies deny information which is too disturbing or threatening serves as a brilliant corrective .


. This is how scholarship should be - zesty, engaged, witty, and always accessible.

' Anne Karpf, The Observer 'Cohen is original, wise and essentially optimistic .


. [He] looks towards a practical utopia where "a deep shame of passivity" would become a mobilizing norm of social life.

' Victoria Brittain, The Guardian 'The sociologist Stanley Cohen, who spent many years in Israel before continuing his academic work in Britain, offers one key to why wars happen, why peace settlements do not take, and why terrible conflicts are ignored or dealt with ineffectively. His new book stresses how central denial is in conflict, indeed in all human life. The concept is well known, but Cohen's careful building up of the detail of denial in its many forms is truly illuminating. He leads the reader to the conclusion that it is denial that is "normal" and an ability to see the truth and act accordingly which is rare, whether in individuals or in governments.

' Martin Woolacott, The Guardian '[a] brilliant and important book.

' Anne Karpf, Jewish Chronicle 'Stan Cohen masterfully exposes the intricate matrix of forms of denial .


. Artfully crafted and beautifully written, States of Denial is certainly not an easy read: it forces us to confront our blind spots and rationalizations. After the twentieth century no serious intellectual can afford not to tread this book and absorb Stan Cohen's profound insights.

' TIKKUN 'Over a period of several decades Cohen has made a series of original and provocative contributions to the field of criminology . This book offers a rich contribution to criminology of a much broader scope, one more in tune with an era of increasing globalization. It explores in a profound way the pervasive resistance to confronting some of the worst crimes of our time.

' Choice 'In an exceptionally wide-ranging treatment of the topic, Cohen's timely book traces multiple forms of the denial of distant suffering. He analyses denial through through the rich lit


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