The biopolitics of corpses of mass
violence and genocide
For the past four decades, students of biopolitics have been probing
why the spectacular growth in the application of technologies
and policies that aim at the optimization of human life has been
articulated with a parallel proliferation of human death. Various
studies have been suggesting many objects or sites that are arguably
highly symptomatic of the issue at hand – a privileged epitome of
the biopolitical quandary. The most famous of these is the camp
International interventions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that ultimately brought the war to
a standstill, emphasised recovering and identifying the missing as chief among the goals
of post-war repair and reconstruction, aiming to unite a heavily divided country. Still,
local actors keep,showing that unity is far from achieved and it is not a goal for all
those involved. This paper examines the various actors that have taken up the task of
locating and identifying the missing in order to examine their incentives as well as any
competing agendas for participating in the process. These efforts cannot be understood
without examining their impact both at the time and now, and we look at the biopolitics of
the process and utilisation of the dead within. Due to the vastness and complexity of this
process, instead of a conclusion, additional questions will be opened required for the
process to keep moving forward.
This article considers the contexts and processes of forensic identification in 2004
post-tsunami Thailand as examples of identity politics. The presence of international
forensic teams as carriers of diverse technical expertise overlapped with
bureaucratic procedures put in place by the Thai government. The negotiation of
unified forensic protocols and the production of estimates of identified nationals
straddle biopolitics and thanatocracy. The immense identification task testified on
the one hand to an effort to bring individual bodies back to mourning families and
national soils, and on the other hand to determining collective ethnic and national
bodies, making sense out of an inexorable and disordered dissolution of corporeal as
well as political boundaries. Individual and national identities were the subject of
competing efforts to bring order to,the chaos, reaffirming the cogency of the body
politic by mapping national boundaries abroad. The overwhelming forensic effort
required by the exceptional circumstances also brought forward the socio-economic and
ethnic disparities of the victims, whose post-mortem treatment and identification
traced an indelible divide between us and them.
the root of the evolution of humanitarianism. From this point of view, humanitarianism could be seen as a biopolitical regime that combines, depending on the context, various technologies of power, some forms of violence and discourses of human rights, suffering and charity.
Traditionally, humanitarianism has been playing a leading role in the proliferation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Its various functions have been the rescue of wounded civilians in war, assistance to refugees and displaced persons and the transmission of information against
the systemic urge to deepen automation at a time of declining profitability ( Smith, 2017 ). Within a post-social world, risk and security
have been individuated. Compared to the normative welfare systems of the past, a new
disaggregated and personalised biopolitics has emerged. If biopolitical regimes could be likened
to animal species, the welfare state catered for the herd. Today, it is the turn of the
predator . 4 Rather than share
risk, there is a new emphasis on individual responsibility. In the global North, the downturn
awaits its realisation. Hence, despite the impotence of violence, that doesn’t mean to say it cannot be put into service to reproduce or create entirely new regimes for political power and bio-political control. Violence is not simply negative. It conditions the possibility of political rule, setting out in the clearest ways the lines of belonging and expendability, the force that’s always measured versus the plight of the damned. This is why violence can so easily be accommodated by the technocratic wisdom of a progressive mind. We are governed, as Foucault noted, by
Writing about Personal Experiences of Humanitarianism
( 2011 ), ‘Humanitarian Sex: Biopolitics, Ethics, and Aid Worker Memoir’ , Australian Literary Studies , 26 : 2 , 43 – 56 .
( 2006 ), Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone ( London : Ebury Press ).
( 2016 ), The Experiential Core of the Humanitarian Vocation: An Analysis of the Autobiographical Narratives of Contemporary Humanitarians ( PhD thesis , University of Kent ).
( 2010 ), War Games
. Whereas the cemetery looms large as the site where modern
(biopolitical) states have sought to contain dead bodies and separate them effectively from the living, this part opens with a counterimage to the (double) containment of dead bodies in the soil of the
cemetery. Benedikte Møller Kristensen writes about ideas and practices of ‘open-air burials’ among the Duha in Mongolia that involve
the opposite of containment, namely the dispersal of the dead body
as it is left to be eaten by animals in the wilderness; a sort of nomadic
territorialisation as it were. Framed by
were born in Greece but
the family had decided to return to Syria some years before. Their deaths could have
been avoided had a new Greek citizenship law – relaxing criteria for the acquisition
of Greek citizenship to children of immigrants born in Greece – been implemented
(Christopoulos 2012).2 The two girls could have legally entered the country as
Greek citizens, instead of risking their lives to cross the militarised border illegally.
These three deaths reflect the biopolitical power of the two key instruments of contemporary sovereign states, namely control
Mass violence is one of the defining phenomena of the twentieth century, which some have even called the 'century of genocides'. The study of how the dead body is treated can lead us to an understanding of the impact of mass violence on contemporary societies. Corpses of mass violence and genocide, especially when viewed from a biopolitical perspective, force one to focus on the structures of the relations between all that participates in the enfolding case study. Argentina is an extraordinary laboratory in the domain of struggle against impunity and of 'restoration of the truth'. It constitutes a useful paradigm in the context of reflection on the corpses of mass violence. Its special character, in the immediate aftermath of the military dictatorship, is to test almost the entirety of juridical mechanisms in the handling of state crimes. The trigger for both the intercommunal violence and the civil war was the mass murders by the Ustaša. This book discusses the massacres carried out by the Ustaša in Croatia during the Second World War. After a brief presentation of the historical background, the massacres carried out by the Ustaša militia and their corpse disposal methods are described. Using Rwanda as a case study, the book proposes an agenda for ethnographic research to explore the relationship between concealment and display in contexts of genocide. This relationship is explored in detail after a discussion of the historical background to the 1994 genocide.