In discussions of conflict, war and political violence, dead bodies count. Although the
politics and practices associated with the collection of violent-death data are seldom
subject to critical examination, they are crucial to how scholars and practitioners think
about how and why conflict and violence erupt. Knowledge about conflict deaths – the who,
what, where, when, why and how – is a form of expertise, created, disseminated and used by
different agents. This article highlights the ways in which body counts are deployed as
social facts and forms of knowledge that are used to shape and influence policies and
practices associated with armed conflict. It traces the way in which conflict-death data
emerged, and then examines critically some of the practices and assumptions of data
collection to shed light on how claims to expertise are enacted and on how the public
arena connects (or not) with scholarly conflict expertise.
The article will present the findings of ethnographic research into the Colombian and
Mexican forensic systems, introducing the first citizen-led exhumation project made
possible through the cooperation of scholars, forensic specialists and interested citizens
in Mexico. The coupling evolution and mutual re-constitution of forensic science will be
explored, including new forms of citizenship and nation building projects – all approached
as lived experience – in two of Latin America‘s most complex contexts: organised crime and
This article describes the brutalisation of the bodies of Tutsi and Jewish victims in
1994 and during the Second World War, respectively, and contrasts the procedures adopted
by killers to understand what these deadly practices say about the imaginaries at work in
Rwanda and Poland. Dealing with the infernalisation of the body, which eventually becomes
a form of physical control, this comparative work examines the development of groups and
communities of killers in their particular social and historical context. Different
sources are used, such as academic works, reports from victims organisations and
non-governmental organisations, books, testimonies and film documentaries.
On 25 September 1911 the battleship Liberté exploded in
Toulon harbour. This tragedy is just one of the many disasters that the French
fleet suffered at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth
centuries and also represents the peak of these calamities, since it is
undoubtedly the most deadly suffered by a French Navy ship in peacetime. The aim
of this article is to study how the navy managed this disaster and the resulting
deaths of service personnel, which were all the more traumatic because the
incident happened in France’s main military port and in circumstances
that do not match the traditional forms of death at sea.
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.
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.
Atrocities that befell Ethiopia during the Dergue regime (1974–91) targeted both
the living and the dead. The dead were in fact at the centre of the Dergue’s
violence. Not only did the regime violate the corpses of its victims, but it
used them as a means to perpetrate violence against the living, the complexity
of which requires a critical investigation. This article aims at establishing,
from the study of Ethiopian law and practice, the factual and legal issues
pertinent to the Dergue’s violence involving the dead. It also examines the
efforts made to establish the truth about this particular form of violence as
well as the manner in which those responsible for it were prosecuted and
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, in the Kabye country, some heads of enemies – those of men foreign to the group – were buried in a mound of earth referred to as hude, meaning ‘manure’. In each locality, this mound is situated inside a wooded sanctuary where the spirit of the mythical founding ancestor resides. In order to understand this practice, this article examines how it fitted within the overall logic of the male initiation cycle, contextualising it in relation to past and present practices. Because it was a highly ambivalent element of the bush, the head of an enemy renewed the generative power of this original ‘manure’ prodigiously, so as to ensure the group’s survival in their land. The burial of the heads of strangers appears to be an initiatory variant of other forms of mastery of the ambivalence of wild forces, entrusted in other African societies to the chief and his waste heap.
In the Catholic areas of Europe, the human remains (both their bones and the
fabrics they touched) of persons considered to have been exceptional are usually
stored for transformation into relics. The production and the reproduction of
the object-relic takes place within monasteries and is carried out firstly on
the material level. In this article I intend to present in detail, from an
anthropological standpoint, the practices used to process such remains, the role
of the social actors involved and the political-ecclesiastical dynamics
connected with them. Owing to obvious difficulties in accessing enclosed
communities, such practices are usually overlooked in historiographical and
ethno-anthropological analyses, while they should instead be considered the most
important moment in the lengthy process intended to give form and meaning to
remains, with a view to their exhibition and use in ritual.
Since the early 1990s, armed actors have invaded territories in the Chocó and Antioquia
departments of Colombia, inhabited by Afro-Colombians and Indians whose collective rights
in these territories had recently been legally recognised. Based on long-term fieldwork
among the Emberá Katío, this article examines social, cosmological and ritual alterations
and re-organisation around violent death. Following a national policy of post-conflict
reparations, public exhumations and identifications of human remains reveal new local
modes of understanding and administration. In particular, suicide, hitherto completely
unknown to the Emberá, broke out in a multitude of cases, mostly among the youth. Local
discourse attributes this phenomenon to the number of stray corpses resulting from the
violence, who are transformed into murderous spirits which shamans can no longer control.
The analysis focusses on the unprecedented articulation of a renewed eschatology, the
intricate effects of an internal political reorganisation and the simultaneous inroad into
their space of new forms of armed insurrectional violence. Thus the article will shed
light on the emergence of a new transitional moral economy of death among the Emberá.