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UMMA Brown Bag Series : Citizenship, Materiality, and Necroviolence along the U.S. - Mexico Border

Thursday, October 4, 2012
12:00 AM
2009 Ruthven Museum

Dr. Jason De León, University of Michigan Department of Anthropology

Citizenship, Materiality, and Necroviolence along the U.S. - Mexico Border

Dr. Jason De León
University of Michigan Department of Anthropology

Each year hundreds of thousands of people attempt to enter the United States from Mexico without authorization through various means including crossing the Sonoran Desert of Arizona on foot or using false identification at ports of entry. During this crossing process people actively construct, contest, and obfuscate a multiplicity of identities through various forms of material culture including clothing, identification paperwork (or lack thereof), and other items. This material culture has important implications for understanding how people live and die while crossing the border. Since 2000, approximately 200 bodies of undocumented migrants have been recovered along the Arizona-Mexico border annually. Many more people remain unrecovered because there is no systematic attempt to locate the remains of crossers, corpses are located in remote areas, or the bodies have been destroyed by animals or environmental conditions. While much research has focused on the violent social process of border crossings, little work has focused on the post-mortem lives of migrant bodies. Drawing on Agamben’s concept of state of exception and using a combination of ethnographic, archaeological, forensic, and experimental taphonomic data, I argue that what happens to the bodies of migrants in the desert is a not a simple matter of decomposition, but instead represents a complex nexus of border enforcement policies and practices coupled with biological and environmental processes that wreak havoc on corpses and create a post-mortem form of violence that I term necroviolence.