Nicky Rousseau
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Identification, politics, disciplines
Missing persons and colonial skeletons in South Africa

The location, exhumation and identification of human remains associated with mass violence and genocide has come to occupy an important place in the panoply of transitional justice measures over the past two decades. Yet the issues that accompany this work - and that cut across the ‘politics of dead bodies’ as well as the politics of knowledge and the ‘disciplines of the dead’ - may well exceed the bounds of transitional justice. These issues are explored here via the work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

The article also looks at the practice of reburial, with a specific interest in how it came to be figured, and how it featured in debates on the colonial dead as well as in subsequent work of the Missing Persons Task Team (MPTT), a unit established in the TRC’s wake. The focus on practice seeks to bring to view, not only the body of exhumation, but a range of other agencies or ‘mediating interpretants’ who do, interpret and study the work of exhumation – exhumation teams, families, the media, scholars - and to think these together.

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Human remains and identification

Mass violence, genocide, and the ‘forensic turn’


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