Accepted Paper:

Burdensome absences, disquieting remains: following the trails of the Civil War missing in Spain  


Zahira Aragüete-Toribio (University of Geneva)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers how the process of exhuming the human remains of those killed during the Spanish Civil War reveals enduring histories of absence in private and social realms.

Paper long abstract:

This paper will focus on the encounter between the unidentified corpses and objects, the documents and images associated to the Spanish Civil War dead, and those who come in touch with them during exhumation processes. Since 2000, Spanish groups of activists and families have led the search for the human remains of those killed by Franco's military and followers during the war (1936-1939) and after. With little acknowledgement from the state or the judiciary, these excavations have placed the bodies of the left-wing Republican missing at the heart of forensic scrutiny, media dissemination, social campaigning, and political and historical debate. Absent from official archives and the lives of some kin for over seventy years, these bodies activated unresolved stories of grief that had remained concealed in transgenerational acts of transfer.

In this paper, I will examine how exhumations elicit and present the disruptive force that absences have had on intimate constructions of the self, family histories and community relations in different ethnographic settings. Following Hertz' and others' insights into customary burial and mourning (e.g. Seremetakis 1991, Kwon 2006), my paper considers how these "undignified deaths" - as they are often recalled - have placed the living in a constant state of anxiety over the uncertain fates of those killed over the years. Following these forensic artefacts into the realm of the public, I will also address how the current political and legal status quo evinces a distressed politics of memory that threatens to obscure, time and time again, their existence.

Panel P045
Missing persons, unidentified bodies: addressing absences and negotiating identifications