Open Access (free)
Pollution, contamination and the neglected dead in post-war Saigon
Christophe Robert

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.

in Governing the dead
Open Access (free)
Theoretical approaches
Finn Stepputat

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.

in Governing the dead
Open Access (free)
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
Antonius C.G.M. Robben

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.

in Governing the dead
Corpse, bodypolitics and contestation in contemporary Guatemala
Ninna Nyberg Sørensen

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.

in Governing the dead
Open Access (free)
Finn Stepputat

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.

in Governing the dead
Open Access (free)
Death, landscape and power among the Duha Tuvinians of northern Mongolia
Benedikte Møller Kristensen

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.

in Governing the dead
Joost Fontein

This chapter examines Zimbabwe's politics of the dead through analytical lenses emergent from theoretical debates about materiality. The politics of the dead in Zimbabwe long predates the grisly events at Chibondo that burst into the public arena in March 2011. In Zimbabwe the politics of heritage, memory and commemoration has been the subject of considerable academic and public debate for a long time. It is likely that some in Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) saw the political usefulness of the uncertainties provoked by the excessive potentiality of the human materials being exhumed from the Mount Darwin mines. The 'indeterminate alterity' of things or 'torque of materiality' indicates that the uncertainty that surrounds how and what human remains do in Zimbabwe's politics of the dead pre-exists or is immanent to questions about the ambivalent agency of bones and bodies as uneasy subject/objects.

in Governing the dead
Open Access (free)
Corpse-work in the prehistory of political boundaries
Richard Kernaghan

The Shining Path have intended the act of looking at human corpses to alter subjectivities, but as a self-proclaimed revolutionary movement its broader goal was to modify collective attachments by announcing and reinforcing political boundaries. Bodily remains could be used to accomplish that, perhaps, since encounters with corpses focus attention on borders of the most basic and experientially immanent kind. They focus attention onto the lines separating one bodily self from another and one human biological life from death. If the primary purpose of political community is to safeguard relations between subjects, time becomes 'weather' precisely when the possibility of property itself is placed in doubt. 'Time as weather' haunts because property itself presupposes temporality, or rather a particular manner in which duration comes to be fused with things.

in Governing the dead
Open Access (free)
Negotiating sovereign claims in Oaxacan post-mortem repatriation
Lars Ove Trans

This chapter explores the process of death and repatriation of a Mexican migrant, Jacinto, from his home in Los Angeles to his native village of San Pedro Yalehua. The village of San Pedro Yalehua is a part of Zapotec Indian community located in the Sierra Juárez mountain range in the southern state of Oaxaca. It argues that the involved authorities in the process of making sovereign claims over Jacinto's dead body concomitantly seek to shape meanings related to membership, belonging and obligation. The chapter illustrates how various authorities seek to exert their sovereignty by inscribing their claims on the deceased migrant body. The importance of death and the corpse as a site for identification of symbolic, national boundaries arises as it not only reinforces the idea of Mexico as a nation but also stresses the importance of Mexico in the lives of the migrants.

in Governing the dead