This panel at the EASA (European Association of Social Anthropologists) annual conference in July 2016 addressed the issue of missing persons and unidentified bodies in various empirical contexts. Claiming that death is rather a process than a moment, papers addressed the question how such confrontations with ‚unusual‘ deaths are symbolically, socially, and politically negotiated.
In past and present times, people have gone missing for various reasons. The 20th century – marked by great violence, wars, and genocides – produced large numbers of missing. Moreover, totalitarian governments use forced disappearances as a strategy for regulating populations through terror. The bodies of the disappeared are often buried in anonymous mass graves and their exhumation and identification is an on-going endeavor in the 21st century – a century itself marked by similar and new forms of disappearance: war, natural disaster, and life-threatening migration routes. Reviving Robert Hertz thought that death is rather a process than a moment we want to address post-mortem in/mobility and precarious futures of dead bodies. Following Hertz‘ argument that a person has to die socially, we also seek to discuss how people cope with the absence of a body and the uncertainty of the whereabouts of a missing person. Papers addressed the absence of a dead person and/ or the presence of an unidentified dead body. How are such confrontations with ‚unusual‘ deaths symbolically and politically negotiated? Which deaths are considered as grievable, which are not, – and by whom? How does the absence of a body affect the bereaved socially, genealogically, economically, and politically? These phenomena evoke several anthropologically important questions, some theoretical, others empirical and ethical. Papers addressed the issue of missing persons and unidentified bodies in various empirical contexts, evoking anthropological legacies discussing kinship, religion, knowledge production, and power.