Governing the dead

Sovereignty and the politics of dead bodies

Edited by Finn Stepputat

Governing the dead


  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-7849-9380-1
  • Pages: 256
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £17.99
  • Published Date: June 2016
  • BIC Category: Politics, Archaeology, Sociology, Society & culture: general, Sociology, Anthropology, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Death & Dying, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural, SOCIAL SCIENCE / General, Society & social sciences / Sociology: death & dying, Society & social sciences / Sociology
  • Series: Human Remains and Violence


In most of the world, the transition from life to death is a time of intense presence of states and other forms of authority. Focusing on the relationship between bodies and sovereignty, Governing the dead explores how, by whom and with what effects dead bodies are governed in conflict and non-conflict contexts across the world, including an analysis of the struggles over 'proper burials'; the repatriation of dead migrants; abandoned cemeteries; exhumations; 'feminicide'; the protection of dead drug-lords; and the disappeared dead. Mapping theoretical and empirical terrains, this volume suggests that the management of dead bodies is related to the constitution and membership of states and non-state entities that claim autonomy and impunity.

This volume is a significant contribution to studies of death, power and politics. It will be useful at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels in anthropology, sociology, law, criminology, political science, international relations, genocide studies, history, cultural studies and philosophy.

The research program leading to this publication has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013) / ERC Grant Agreement n° 283-617.


'This is an important, original, diverse collection of studies that broach the boundaries and intersections between the private and the public, between grieving and governing, and between nature, humanity and the state.'
Ben Kiernan, Director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University, and author of Blood and Soil

'This volume suggests both a cutting edge conceptual toolbox as well as an exceptionally wide range of case studies, both practically pioneering and research-field defining. I am sure that the volume, and Stepputat's theoretical discussion in particular will become a classic reference as well as a must-include item in university syllabi.'
Yehonatan Alsheh, University of the Free State

'a significant contribution in death studies as well as in governance studies.'
Lotte Meinert, Aarhus University, Denmark


Introduction - Finn Stepputat
1. Governing the dead: theoretical approaches - Finn Stepputat
PART I: Containment and negotiation
2. The proper funeral: death, landscape and power among the Dukha Tuvinians in post-Soviet Mongolia - Benedicte Møller Kristensen
3. Dead zone: pollution, contamination, and the neglected dead in post-war Saigon - Christophe Robert
4. Traveling corpses: negotiating sovereign claims in Oaxacan post-mortem repatriation - Lars Ove Trans
5. Claiming the dead, defining the nation - Contested narratives of the independence struggle in post-conflict Timor-Leste - Henri Myrttinen
6. Re-making the dead, uncertainty and the torque of human materials in northern Zimbabwe - Joost Fontein
PART II: Transgression
7. Governing the disappeared-dead in Argentina: violent state formation and territoriality during authoritarian rule - Antonius C.G.M. Robben
8. Dangerous corpses in Mexico's drug war - Regnar Kristensen
9. Time as weather: corpse-work in the prehistory of political boundaries - Richard Kernaghan
10. Feminicide: governing through the mutilated female body - Ninna Nyberg Sørensen
11. Abandonment and victory in relations with dead bodies - John Borneman


Finn Stepputat is Senior Researcher in Peace, Risk and Violence at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS)

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