- Destruction and Human Remains: Disposal and Concealment in Genocide and Mass Violence ed. by Élisabeth Anstett and Jean-Marc Dreyfus, and: Governing the Dead: Sovereignty and the Politics of Dead Bodies ed. by Finn Stepputat
Making a poignant case for social science scholars to critically address the physical body after death, Manchester University Press has recently published two volumes in the new Human Remains and Violence series: Destruction and Human Remains: Disposal and Concealment in Genocide and Mass Violence, edited by Élisabeth Anstett and Jean-Marc Dreyfus, and Governing the Dead: Sovereignty and the Politics of Dead Bodies, edited by Finn Stepputat. This series is a culmination of the outstanding research being conducted by the European Corpses of Mass Violence and Genocide Research Program, funded by the European Research Council to explore the social legacy of mass violence and genocide from a transnational and multidisciplinary perspective.1
Particularly focusing on the corpses generated by genocide and mass violence, the Corpses Program and the Human Remains and Violence series address the social contexts of these remains by questioning how different societies address the disposal, concealment, destruction, symbolism, and sovereignty of these remains. To achieve this goal, the program brings together scholars from history, anthropology, and law to discuss, compare, and contrast issues of corporeal destruction and identification, as well as (re)conciliation after mass violence.
In order to discuss the treatment of bodies, especially in the context of mass violence, a global approach must be taken. Each of these edited works has expertly achieved this goal by incorporating numerous international examples drawn from disparate violent conflicts. The nine chapters in Anstett and Dreyfus’s volume discuss research regarding the Bosnian, Armenian, and Rwandan genocides, the Holocaust, and the violent regime changes in Argentina, South Africa, and Iran. Similarly, the 12 chapters in Stepputat’s volume are drawn from research conducted in Mongolia, Vietnam, Mexico, Timor-Leste, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Peru, Guatemala, Russia, and Germany. While all genocides, violent conflicts, and crimes against humanity are, understandably, not addressed, these case studies provide valuable means for comparing the treatment of bodies temporally, geographically, and sociopolitically.
Destruction and Human Remains is the first book in the Human Remains and Violence series and was a result of the 2012 “Corpses of Mass Violence and Genocide” [End Page 274] research conference. The purpose of both the volume and the research program is to bring the “dead body” into scholarly focus when studying mass violence, as it is often overlooked or simply removed from some scholarly endeavors. Thematically, Destruction and Human Remains addresses the treatment of bodies by executioners and other parties; specifically, the disposal, concealment, and destruction of mass numbers of corpses—for example, the cremation of corpses during the Holocaust (Elissa Mailänder). For Anstett and Dreyfus, disposal refers to the abandonment of a body either at the site of execution or elsewhere. Concealment, including forced disappearances of the living, is the removal of a corpse for secretive disposal and can include burial or disposal in a natural or man-made location (e.g., a gorge, cave, lake, or well); often, concealment requires the breaking down of a body into smaller pieces or the transportation of body parts. Finally, destruction refers to the complete obliteration of the body with the intention of leaving no trace, generally achieved by incineration or chemical processing.
With these categories of corpse treatment established, Anstett and Dreyfus were able to identify three areas of study for this volume: actors, practices, and logics. The first section of the book addresses the actors, or agents, responsible for the executions as well as the treatment of the corpses. Who were these actors, what groups did they belong to, and what ideologies were they following? What were they to do with the corpses and why? The authors in this section discuss such actors in a Bosnian community (Max...