Katherine Verdery, an American anthropologist, was the first to make some systematic observations about the accelerated movement of dead bodies in East-Central Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Empire. She noted that, in this period of political transformation, the corpses of political leaders and cultural heroes accrued certain powers leading to a struggle over appropriating those powers, and to the exhumation and displacement of their bodies. This chapter considers the modes of appropriation of the power of corpses and offers an explanation for their widespread movement in post-socialist states. This movement is a manic reaction to the death of political regimes and to the sense of abandonment that accompanies this end. Although people may understand this reaction as asserting sovereignty over the dead, it in fact demonstrates the inverse: that the dead govern the living.

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Contested narratives of the independence struggle in postconfl ict Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste's struggle for independence cost the lives of more than 108,000 people, the majority of them unarmed civilians. The supposedly unifying narrative of the nation struggling as one for independence, of which the claim of the nation over the remains of the dead heroes is one manifestation, is however not uncontested. This chapter focuses on three aspects of the socially, culturally and politically complex debate. Following a brief historical outline, it looks at the role of the dead in narratives of the state, the role of narratives of continued struggle and competing efforts of state and non-state actors to collect the remains of the fallen and demand recognition. The end of the struggle and the 'realness' of independence is questioned not only through the dead, however, but also through the state's politics of recognition.

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This chapter argues that the brutal treatment of corpses transgresses the spheres of national security politics and the simple spread of terror. Corpses are instead seen as a social force that enchants politics and socialises religion. The chapter focuses on the possible social and cosmological complications of the violations of Arturo Beltrán Leyva's corpse in the Mexican drug war. It suggests that, as a result of Beltrán Leyva's violent death, his corpse is likely to be suspected in Mexico's violent underground economy of confining a restless terrorising force capable of attacking people. Two days after Beltrán Leyva's funeral, the marine who had been shot during the campaign was buried in the presence of both family and military personnel in his home state of Tabasco. The chapter concludes that a violent death in popular Catholicism may prevent the soul from leaving the dead body for purgatory.

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Pollution, contamination and the neglected dead in post-war Saigon

Pollution in the dead zone seeps in and becomes unbearably real and anxiety producing when its source is identified as 'death itself '. Georges Bataille reflected on the fear of violation and contamination resulting from encounters with corpses and humans' efforts to institute rituals to domesticate the pollution from encounters with dead bodies. The city government wants to remove graves and raze the cemeteries because they are a chaotic mess, symbols of disorder, pollution and contamination. The municipal government of Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City has tried without much conviction or success to close down the textile and plastics factories that dump waste directly into the marshes around Binh Hung Hoa cemeteries. The government has also tried to regulate illegal dumping of trash and close down illegal garbage dumps that sprouted in the marshes.

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Theoretical approaches

This chapter sets out the theoretical terrain that the authors of the volume navigate in their analyses, a terrain where dead bodies and sovereign practice intersect. It looks at four different approaches, including psychoanalysis ('fear of death'), critical theory ('between bio- and necropolitics'), the anthropology of rituals ('sacralisation of authority') and lastly more ideas of materiality and alterity ('dead agency'). Given the theoretical links between sovereignty and dead bodies, it would be no surprise if shifts in the ways authorities claim to govern dead bodies coincides with shifts in the ways in which sovereignty is claimed. The chapter looks at ways in which anthropologists and others have interpreted the ritualisation of death as linked to power and sovereignty. The power of death is associated with classical accounts of sovereignty. Dead bodies have an important role to play in the enchantment of politics and the sacralisation of authority.

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Sovereignty and the politics of dead bodies
Editor: Finn Stepputat

This book looks at sovereignty as a particular form of power and politics. It shows that the fate of bodies in the transition from life to death can provide a key to understanding fundamental ways in which sovereignty is claimed and performed. The contributions analyse (post-)conflict as well as non-conflict contexts, which too often are studied in isolation from one another. Focusing on contemporary issues rather than the equally important historical dimensions, they all grapple with the questions of who governs the dead bodies, how, why and with what effects. The book analyses how dead bodies are placed and dealt with in spaces between competing, overlapping and nested sovereign orders, under normal as well as exceptional conditions. It looks at contributions that draw on psychoanalysis, critical theory, the structuralist-functionalist anthropology of burial rituals and recent ideas of agency and materiality. The book first explains the efforts of states to contain and separate out dead bodies in particular sites. It explores the ways in which such efforts of containment are negotiated and contested in struggles between different entities that claim the dead bodies. The book then shows how entities that claim sovereignty produce effects of sovereignty by challenging and transgressing the laws regarding the legitimate use of violence and how dead bodies should be treated with dignity.

The violent pursuit of cultural sovereignty during authoritarian rule in Argentina

This chapter examines the governing of the disappeared-living and the disappeared-dead in Argentina by an authoritarian regime which was convinced that the nation's cultural tradition was besieged by a guerrilla insurgency and a revolutionary ideology. This thus challenged Argentina's political and cultural sovereignty with arms and ideas. The Argentine military embarked between 1976 and 1983 on a cultural war against their own people, determined to secure the country's cultural sovereignty. Biopower was defined in cultural terms, and required necropower to constitute an authoritarian governmentality. Cultural sovereignty became extended into the bodies and minds of the enemies of the state through disappearance, torture and either rehabilitation or assassination. The violent confrontation between the Argentine military and a revolutionary segment of Argentine society was a dispute about cultural sovereignty between enemies that adhered to fundamentally different cultural projects.

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Corpse, bodypolitics and contestation in contemporary Guatemala

This chapter examines the brutal killing of women in post-war Guatemala, the interpretations that these murders engender and the place of the dead bodies in the country's contestations over sovereignty. It provides a powerful means of exploring corpses, bodypolitics and contestation in contemporary Guatemala. The chapter suggests that in Guatemala, as in Ciudad Juarez, the mutilated female body has become central to the making and territorialisation of overlapping, partially sovereign bodies at the local, regional or national level. It introduces the terms and definitions utilised in debates over violence and mass killings of women. The chapter then turns to descriptions of the brutality with which the murders are committed and the body displayed. The killing of Guatemalan women is placed in historical context, including the legacy of the armed conflict. 'Femicide' and 'feminicide' have entered the vocabulary of Guatemalan women's and human rights organisations and progressive feminist parliamentarians.

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This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book looks at sovereignty as a particular form of power and politics. This hopefully shows that the fate of bodies in the transition from life to death can provide a key to understanding fundamental ways in which sovereignty is claimed and performed. It explores how the management of dead bodies is related to the constitution, territorialisation and membership of political and moral communities that enframe lives in various parts of the world. The book analyses the exhumation of a mass grave with dead bodies in varied degrees of decomposition in the northern part of contemporary Zimbabwe. It presents various cases in which necro-political aspects of sovereignty take precedence over the bio-political in practices that work through dead bodies, notably by transgressing the limits set out in state law.

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Death, landscape and power among the Duha Tuvinians of northern Mongolia

This chapter aims to explore the Duha concepts of proper and improper burial, including how their 'return' to open-air funerals may be conceived as an effort to regain control over local bodies, lives and lands. The traditional funeral practice of the Duha reindeer nomads of northern Mongolia consists in placing corpses on the open ground in the wild forest to be eaten by wild animals. The Duha are a Tuvinian minority group of reindeer herders and hunters, amounting to only around 400 people, living in the forested and mountainous regions of northern Mongolia bordering Russia. Following the collapse of socialism in Mongolia, the Duha have increasingly returned to their traditional open-air funerals. The collapse of socialism have marked the end of the state law on funerals, but also the end of social security, which the Mongolian People's Republic had provided for its citizens.

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