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Author:Sophie Schasiepen (University of the Western Cape)
Paper short abstract:
Taking the return of two people from a collection of human remains from southern Africa, brought to Vienna in 1909, as example, I wish to discuss some of the diverging, ruptured processes of identification and detachment that people from different positionalities show in relation to the remains.
Paper long abstract:
Much has been said about the affective qualities of human remains and their always present excess of meaning, their specific status of being both person and object. But how do we account for the diverging, multiply ruptured processes of identification and detachment that people from different positionalities show when it comes to remains that were unethically removed from their places of origin and put into scientific collections?
Taking a specific collection of human remains appropriated in southern Africa and brought to Vienna at the beginning of the 20th century as example, I wish to discuss some of these diverse attitudes and try to map them along geographical, political and social faultlines. The materiality of unethically acquired human remains in scientific collections both enables and hinders affective engagements with the past.
In 2012, the remains of two of the individuals of the collection in question were returned to South Africa. I conducted interviews with different stakeholders who participated in the negotiation and realisation of the return. These offer insights into the various effects this process had on different people, if and how the engagement changed their understanding of the violent histories these remains represent. They also show how continued structural and epistemic violence complicates processes of relating to each other and the remains. My paper, staying close to this case study, will discuss some of the potentials and pitfalls of the return of human remains from scientific collections to their places of origin.
Unearthing Memories: Remembering and Forgetting as Subterranean Practices