COVID-19 has reinstated the sovereign enclosures of corpse management that mothers of the disappeared had so successfully challenged in the past decade. To explore how moral duties toward the dead are being renegotiated due to COVID-19, this article puts forward the notion of biorecuperation, understood as an individualised form of forensic care for the dead made possible by the recovery of biological material. Public health imperatives that forbid direct contact with corpses due to the pandemic, interrupt the logics of biorecuperation. Our analysis is based on ten years of experience working with families of the disappeared in Mexico, ethnographic research within Mexico’s forensic science system and online interviews conducted with medics and forensic scientists working at the forefront of Mexico City’s pandemic. In the face of increasing risks of viral contagion and death, this article analyses old and new techniques designed to bypass the prohibitions imposed by the state and its monopoly over corpse management and identification.
The handling of the deceased during the COVID-19 pandemic, a case study in France and Switzerland
Gaëlle Clavandier, Marc-Antoine Berthod, Philippe Charrier, Martin Julier-Costes, and Veronica Pagnamenta
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an unprecedented global crisis. To limit the spread of the virus and the associated excess mortality, states and governing bodies have produced a series of regulations and recommendations from a health perspective. The funerary aspects of these directives have reconfigured not only the ways in which the process of dying can be accompanied, but also the management of dead bodies, impacting on the dying, their relatives and professionals in the sector. Since March 2020, the entire process of separation and farewell has been affected, giving rise to public debates about funeral restrictions and the implications for mourning. We carried out a study in France and Switzerland to measure the effects of this crisis, and in particular to explore whether it has involved a shift from a funerary approach to a strictly mortuary one. Have the practices that would normally be observed in non-pandemic times been irrevocably altered? Does this extend to all deaths? Has there been a switch to an exclusively technical handling? Are burial practices still respected? The results of the present study pertain to the ‘first wave’ of spring 2020 and focus on the practices of professionals working in the funeral sector.
Liliana Sanjurjo, Desirée Azevedo, and Larissa Nadai
This article analyses the management of bodies in Brazil within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its objective is to examine how the confluence of underreporting, inequality and alterations in the forms of classifying and managing bodies has produced a political practice that aims at the mass infection of the living and the quick disposal of the dead. We first present the factors involved in the process of underreporting of the disease and its effects on state registration and regulation of bodies. Our analysis then turns to the cemetery to problematise the dynamics through which inequality and racism are re-actualised and become central aspects of the management of the pandemic in Brazil. We will focus not only on the policies of managing bodies adopted during the pandemic but also on those associated with other historical periods, examining continuities and ruptures, as well as their relationship to long-term processes.
Presumed black immunity to yellow fever and the racial politics of burial labour in 1855 Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia
Michael D. Thompson
Epidemic disease regularly tore through nineteenth-century American cities, triggering public health crises and economic upheaval. These epidemic panics also provoked new racialised labour regimes, affecting the lives of innumerable working people. During yellow fever outbreaks, white authorities and employers preferred workers of colour over ‘unacclimated’ white immigrants, reflecting a common but mistaken belief in black invulnerability. This article chronicles enslaved burial labourers in antebellum Virginia, who leveraged this notion to seize various privileges – and nearly freedom. These episodes demonstrate that black labour, though not always black suffering or lives, mattered immensely to white officials managing these urban crises. Black workers were not mere tools for protecting white wealth and health, however, as they often risked torment and death to capitalise on employers’ desperation for their essential labour. This history exposes racial and socioeconomic divergence between those able to shelter or flee from infection, and those compelled to remain exposed and exploitable.
The McAleese Report was published in 2013 following an eighteen-month inquiry, representing the first attempt by the state to examine the country’s church-run Magdalen Laundries and to determine the role of the government and its agencies in their operation throughout the twentieth century. Despite focusing on state involvement, the inquiry offered a rare opportunity to gain insight into the experiences of the women who lived and laboured in the laundries, and to facilitate recognition, reconciliation, and redress. However, shortly after the publication of the report, survivor groups and journalists began to question the validity of the inquiry and the accuracy and reliability of its findings. Based on a close reading and drawing on survivor testimony, this study offers a critical analysis of the inquiry and Report. It evaluates the McAleese Committee’s mandate, aims, composition, and powers, its approach to obtaining and responding to evidence, and questions whether its Report was helpful in the healing process for the survivors and for Ireland. Identifying errors, omissions, and potential bias in the McAleese Report, this chapter demonstrates the importance of assessing and challenging the official narrative on the Magdalen Laundries as Ireland attempts to come to terms with its history of institutionalisation.
This chapter thinks about the Magdalene survivor as an overlooked subject of contract law. It examines two contractual artefacts: the recent waiver agreement signed by participants in the Magdalene Restorative Justice Scheme and the state’s past contracts with religious orders who ran the laundries. Holding both contracts together demonstrates these women’s ‘double’ legal subjectivity. At different times in their lives, contract made these women alternate between person and ‘thing’. In the past, they were third parties to contracts between religious orders and state agencies: agreements for the bulk distribution of women’s unpaid labour, which did not recognise those women as persons at all. More recently, women were asked to sign waiver agreements, promising not to sue religious orders or the state, as a condition for receiving financial redress. The waiver agreement, in some ways, echoes the older laundry contracts, albeit the waiver is signed by the woman herself. By recognising survivors of the laundries as contractual subjects, and contract as an aspect of the law used to discipline and control them, we get closer to overlooked aspects of the structural violence they endured. More than that, we can trace the troubling resonances of these contractual structures in contemporary Irish law.
A case study of children’s homes in Ireland and the UK
Sarah-Anne Buckley and Lorraine Grimes
Since 2014, when Catherine Corless’s work on the Tuam Mother and Baby Home gained international attention, Ireland’s ‘mother and baby homes’ have become a national and international scandal. While recent academic, activist, and journalistic work has focused on the overall system that operated in these ‘homes’, and microhistories of particular institutions, this chapter deals with a hitherto underexplored area – comparisons between the operation of homes in Ireland and in the United Kingdom. To do this, it offers a comparative microhistory approach, looking at two institutions – the Tuam Children’s Home in Ireland, and the Father Hudson Homes in Colehill, Birmingham, England. After an initial history of both institutions, the chapter utilises oral history testimonies and case files extracted from the archival material of British institutions. Particular focus is given to the importance of social class and gender to the operation and experience of the institutions. In the UK, social class and nationality were important in determining the assistance provided to unmarried mothers and their children. The individual cases throughout offer an insight into the realities of unmarried motherhood, adoption, and institutionalisation in Britain and Ireland throughout the twentieth century.