This chapter chronicles and reflects on the experiences of working ethnographically within, alongside and in collaboration with a large-scale interdisciplinary experiment in computational social science. It does so by recounting, from the ethnographer’s point of view, a number of ‘collaborative moments’ at the awkward intersection of computational data science and ethnographic fieldwork, as partners in the same research project. Here, the anthropologist finds herself in a position at right angles to both the population under study and the other scientists studying them; a chronic condition of oscillating between practising ethnography in a (partly) computational social science framework and doing an ethnography of the very scientific data practices and infrastructures involved. We consider this in/of oscillation not as a point of disciplinary comparison but rather as involving ‘transversal’ collaborations that instantiate forms of non-coherent, intermittent and yet productively mutual co-shaping among partially connected knowledge practices and practitioners. Such a rethinking is crucial, we argue, for understanding new social data ‘complementarities’ and their epistemological, ethical and political ramifications.
The chapter will show how both the Soviet authorities and the leaders of independent Ukraine attempted to block real investigation and commemoration at the hamlet of Bykivnia, where the NKVD buried murdered bodies from 1939-1941. The chapter will look into how their attempts failed due to pressure from within—grave robbers and activists—and, especially, without—Germany and Poland. Following this account, details about the little-known Nazi and Soviet exhumations at the site will be examined.
In the immediate aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, Poland was quite literally a vast Jewish cemetery. In fields, forests, by the side of roads, and in Jewish cemeteries throughout the country, the corpses of dead Jews were buried helter-skelter in mass graves, partially buried in an apparent rush, or even left unburied. Even Jews who had no intentions of remaining in postwar Poland returned to their home towns resolved to fulfill a solemn duty to give the dead a proper burial, if possible in a Jewish cemetery. Using several yizkor books, this chapter will examine the efforts of Polish Jewish survivors to exhume the corpses of their dead and then rebury them with dignity in accordance with Jewish ritual and the role of memory in depiction of this act.
The chapter will examine how forensic scientists, including anthropologists, have been exploring the potential of new methods and processes in the resolution of mass grave contexts. The introduction of DNA to contexts where these challenges exist has had some success in the Balkans and in Guatemala, two areas that have experienced brutal civil wars for a number of years. More recently, the analysis of elemental and osteometric measures on the body have demonstrated potential in attempts to re-associate remains. Ultimately however, technological developments complement extensive ante-mortem investigation and the two cannot be utilised independently if the required end result is to successfully identify victims.