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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This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book shows the undeniable contribution and the limits of the biopower theory in the understanding of dead bodies en masse. It talks about the fact that criminology has for so long ignored mass crime, even though the link between the corpse and the criminal is one of the fundamentals of the discipline. The book addresses the issue of the practical and symbolic treatment of corpses by societies affected by mass violence. It shows how working ideologies along with historical legacy and geographical landscapes determined the disposal of the bodies. The book examines the simultaneously diplomatic and medicolegal nature of the activities of the French Search Commission for Corpses of Deportees in Germany. It also draws on German archives to describe the various modalities of treatment of corpses in Croatia.