Tous les articles par Elisabeth Anstett

Corpses of mass violence and genocide

This Blog aims at presenting the research program Corpses of Mass Violence and Genocide. Bringing together perspectives of social anthropology, law and history, and raising the three main issues of destruction, research and identification, and restitution of human remains to society, this research programme directed by anthropologist Elisabeth Anstett (PI) and historian Jean-Marc Dreyfus, has enlighten how various social and cultural treatments of dead bodies simultaneously challenge common representations, legal practices and morality. Programme outputs have therefore open and strengthen the field of genocide studies by providing proper intellectual and theoretical tools for a better understanding of mass violence’s aftermaths in today societies. This research programme, which started in 2012 and ended in 2016, has been entirely financed through a Consolidator grant from the European Research Council, and has led since then to numerous publications.

New: Human Remains in Society (Dreyfus & Anstett)

Human remains in society. Curation and exhibition in the aftermath of genocide and mass-violence

Edited by Jean-Marc Dreyfus and Élisabeth Anstett


Whether reburied, concealed, stored, abandoned or publicly displayed, human remains raise a vast number of questions regarding social, legal and ethical uses by communities, public institutions and civil society organisations. This book presents a ground-breaking account of the treatment and commemoration of dead bodies resulting from incidents of genocide and mass violence. Through a range of international case studies across multiple continents, it explores the effect of dead bodies or body parts on various political, cultural and religious practices. Multidisciplinary in scope, it will appeal to readers interested in this crucial phase of post-conflict reconciliation, including students and researchers of history, anthropology, sociology, archaeology, law, politics and modern warfare.


  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-0738-1
  • Pages: 272
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: November 2016
  • BIC Category: Anthropology, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Genocide & War Crimes, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Archaeology, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General, Archaeology, Humanities / Genocide & ethnic cleansing, Humanities / Archaeology, Society & social sciences / Anthropology
  • Series: Human Remains and Violence

A doctoral and a post-doctoral position at the University of Geneva

collaborateursFor information : two positions (doctoral + postdoctoral) at the University of Geneva.
In the frame of her Swiss National Science Foundation Professorship (2016-2020), legal scholar Sévane Garibian is seeking doctoral and post-doctoral candidates for her research team in Transitional Justice hosted by the University of Geneva.
The Research Project is entitled “Droit à la vérité et vérité du droit. Impunité des crimes de masse et justice transitionnelle » (duration : 4 years).
For complete information, please click on the links below.
Thank you for circulating among potentially interested students/scholars.

Justice for the Dead, by Tony Platt

BERKLEY indian skull and bones LIFE MAGAZINEIn 1974, Berkeley’s distinguished anthropologist, Robert Heizer, issued a public mea culpa for the practices of his profession in treating “California Indians as though they were objects.” In particular, he apologized for the “continued digging up of the graves of their ancestors.”
In 1999, the Department of Anthropology at Berkeley issued an apology to the cultural descendants of Ishi for sending his brain to the Smithsonian in 1916. “We regret our department’s role in what happened to Ishi, a man who had already lost all that was dear to him.”
This was a good beginning to a journey of accountability and reconciliation. But since then, the University of California has been publicly silent about its role as the legal owner of a vast collection of native body parts stashed in basements in campuses throughout the state. It owes at the very least 10,000 more apologies.
What happened to Ishi was by no means an anomaly. Between the late 18th century, when Thomas Jefferson dug up a thousand skeletons buried near his home, and the 1960s, when the Red Power movement challenged the right of archaeologists and scientists to treat their dead as specimens, hundreds of thousands of native bodies were excavated throughout the United States.
During the first half of the 20th century, California’s anthropologists played a leading role in the exhumation of graves and trade in funerary artifacts. Ralph Glidden, a self-styled archaeologist, filled and decorated the Catalina Museum of Island Indians with hundreds of crania and bones taken from Tongva and other graves. Two hundred human remains collected by Glidden are currently housed at UCLA.
At Berkeley, archaeologist Edward Gifford tested his eugenic theories of racial difference on the skulls of native peoples sent to the university by collectors all over the state. By 1948, Berkeley was boasting to Life magazine that its Native American collection included “more than 10,000 Indian skeletons, many of them complete.” A full-page photograph depicted a room full of human remains and a graduate student using a “craniometer to measure an ancient Indian skull.” A colleague recalls seeing human bones displayed in the landmark Campanile in the early 1960s.
In 1990 Congress passed legislation (Native American Graves and Repatriation Action or NAGPRA) that requires federally funded museums and universities to repatriate human remains to recognized tribes. While most institutions comply with the letter of the law, the pace of repatriation is glacially slow. By 2011 the Smithsonian had repatriated only one-third of its collection of human remains.
The University of California is the main repository of Native remains in this region. Here too repatriation is stalled. UC Davis retains more than 90 percent of its collection. “There are more dead Indians on the Davis campus than alive,” says a Native American activist working on a film about the anthropology department’s morgue of “Uneasy Remains.” As of June 2013, Berkeley has repatriated only 315 of its 10,000 remains. Why so little progress?
First, the process is slow and expensive, as claimants must make their ponderous way through faculty, campus, and university committees. Second, until recently tribes unrecognized by the federal government did not have a legal right to make a direct claim. Third, and most significantly, due to unscientific methods of work, the majority of the collection is unidentifiable as to provenance or tribal affiliation.
The burden for this impasse should be shouldered by the university. Throughout the 20th century, anthropologists from Berkeley and other UC campuses abused their scientific privilege by digging up graves without respect for the descendants of the dead; encouraging amateur archaeologists all over the state to send skeletal remains to the nearest university; failing in many cases to document the sites of excavation; indiscriminately mixing up body parts; and promoting racist ideas about Native inferiority.
The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, which serves as curator of Berkeley’s collection of human remains, is currently closed down for a “profound transformation” of its galleries, educational programs, and storage facilities. According to a Hearst staff member, the collection of body parts will be moved from a dank basement in the Hearst Gym to “new and improved storage” in Kroeber Hall; there will be a visitors’ room for Native groups to hold ceremonies; and a Native American advisory committee (albeit selected by the university) will be established.
These are small steps in the right direction. But in addition to these mostly cosmetic changes and to complying with the bureaucratic procedures of NAGPRA, the University should take institutional responsibility for, in Heizer’s words, “a human ethical” issue, namely how so many well educated, well meaning professors and administrators eagerly violated the rights of the dead and tormented the living.
If the University wants to profoundly transform its relations with tribal and native groups, it needs to take bold action, such as issuing public apologies for decades of malpractice, accelerating the repatriation process, and offering land or compensation for reburials.
(This was published in a slightly edited form as “UC and Native Americans: Unsettled Remains,” Los Angeles Times, 18 June 2013.)
Sociologist, Tony Platt is the author of ten books,150 essays and articles dealing with issues of race, inequality, and social justice in American history. Platt taught at the University of Chicago, University of California (Berkeley), and California State University (Sacramento). He is a Visiting Professor in Department of Justice Studies, San José State University, California. His publications have been translated into German, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese. His latest book – Grave Matters: Excavating California’s Buried Past – was published by Heyday in 2011. He lives in Berkeley and Big Lagoon, California, and serves as secretary of the Coalition to Protect Yurok Cultural Legacies at O-pyuweg (Big Lagoon). Platt blogs on history and memory at

Museums confront the skeletons in their closets

25remains_337-articleLargeFor more than a century museums have exhibited assorted limbs, bones, tubercular lungs and fetuses, all in the name of science and enlightenment. Yet lately the curators are re-evaluating the principles that govern their displays as they confront a growing debate over what cultural organizations should be doing to preserve the dignity of the dead.
Read the full article in The New York Times here.

Just published: "Exhuming the defeated: Civil War mass graves in 21st-century Spain", by Francisco Ferrándiz

Francisco FERRÁNDIZ, social anthropologist at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Spanish National Research Council), has just published an article in the last issue (Vol 40, n°1, february 2013) of the journal American Anthropologist, dealing with exhumations occuring in Spain. The exhumations of two mass graves in a small Spanish village, conducted eight years apart, illustrate changing attitudes towards and procedures related to Civil War (1936–39) disinterments over the last decade. The sudden public visibility oLink to full-size graphical abstractf skeletons of civilians executed by Francisco Franco’s paramilitary has triggered heated debates both about how to handle these remains in a consolidated democratic state and what to make of related judicial and institutional initiatives.
To read more : see here.

Special issue of South East Asia Research : LIFE AFTER COLLECTIVE DEATH IN SOUTH-EAST ASIA

A special issue of South East Asia Research,
Life after Collective Death in South East Asia:

Part 1 – The (Re-) Fabrication of Social Bonds
Volume 20, Number 2, June 2012

 In the decades leading up to 2012, South East Asia has not only experienced civil wars, but has also seen a number of major ‘natural’ disasters (typhoons, earthquakes, floods and tsunamis).  This special issue is a two-part collection of papers (the second will appear in June 2013) – which examines the aftermath of the immense collective deaths from a mid-term perspective.
Life after Collective Death in South East Asia looks at how South East Asian societies adapt in the aftermath of environmental, social and human destruction; it examines the processes these societies go through in order to make sense of and cope with disasters.  While engaging with mental and physical suffering the researchers also encountered peoples and groups with the capacity to overcome such suffering.  The articles therefore focus as much on the vitality of contemporary South East Asia as on the tragic events.

See table of content : here.

About the Guest Editors:
Dr Anne Yvonne Guillou is an anthropologist and tenured researcher at Centre Asie du Sud-Est (CASE), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 190 Avenue de France, 75244 Paris Cedex 13, France.  E-mail:
Dr Silvia Vignato is an anthropologist and tenured researcher at Dipartimento di Scienze Umane per la Formazione ‘Riccardo Massa’, Università di Milano-Bicocca, Piazza dell’Ateneo Nuovo 1, 20126 Milano, Italy. E-mail:

Présentation de notre programme à la conférence de l'INOG à San Francisco (2012)

Dans le cadre de notre programme de recherche, nous avons organisé un panel à la 3rd Global Conference on Genocide de l’International Network of Genocide Scholars, intitulée « Genocide: Knowing the Past, Safeguarding the Future », qui s’est tenue à la San Francisco State University (San Francisco, California) du 28 Juin au 1er Juillet 2012, auquel ont participé Elisabeth Anstett, Caroline Fournet, Jon Shute, Michael Salter et Jean-Marc Dreyfus.
Une quarantaine de personnes ont assisté aux présentations et les discussions qui ont suivi ont  été l’occasion d’échanges fructueux. Les questions ont particulièrement pointé le caractère novateur de notre recherche et les difficultés inhérentes au travail sur la matérialité des corps, sachant que les « Genocide Studies » sont aujourd’hui très théorisées. La discussion a aussi porté sur les limites de notre recherche et particulièrement sur le champ juridique. La présentation de Caroline Fournet a été l’objet de questions, qui nous aideront autant à poursuivre notre réflexion.
Le panel a été l’occasion de montrer l’avancée des travaux du projet de recherche. Nombreux ont été les contacts avec les collègues étrangers. Assister aux différents panels de la conférence nous a permis également de constater :
– l’état du champ des « Genocide Studies » au sein duquel la question des cadavres dans les violences de masse et les génocides est encore peu considérée (quelques rares interventions, en dehors de notre panel, ont traité cette question des corps).
– les questions posées dans le champ, en particulier la catégorisation des violences de masse et la définition même des génocides. Ce dernier point semble faire particulièrement problème à certains chercheurs qui questionnent les limites imposées par la définition juridique face à la multiplicité des cas étudiés.
– la faible présence des recherches sur l’Holocauste dans le champ des « Genocide Studies » ; la très faible présence des recherches sur la violence stalinienne dans ce même champ ; l’absence presque complète d’interrogation en criminologie.
– la grande attention portée par nos collègues aux différents tribunaux pénaux internationaux.
Au-delà de contacts nombreux, nous avons particulièrement noué des liens avec trois chercheurs que nous souhaiterions voir se joindre à nos travaux : David Deutsch (Université du Negev, Ben Gourion, Israel) qui travaille sur le rapport au corps des bourreaux de l’Holocauste, Shannon Scully (Strassker Family Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Clark University, USA) qui étudie le traitement patrimonial des restes humains au Rwanda et Toni Platt (University Berkeley, USA) qui enquête sur les exhumations massives des cimetières amérindiens en Californie.

Conference "The case of victims in Spain and Europe", 28-29 May 2012 in Madrid

The case of victims in Spain and Europe: civil wars, terrorism and political acts of violence.
Nowadays, the political science works about the mobilization of the victims have been rather developed. Unfortunately, these studies ignore most of the time the Spanish fact which should be considered as one of the fields of investigation more appropriate and fertile to deal with this subject. The “case of victims” which could be terrorism, civil war or Franco system consequences, has been present in fact in the Spanish public debate for years.
However in Spain the cause of victims haven’t been analysed itself but in a few occasions and sometimes it is connected with subjects as the historical memory and the justice. The scarce studies trying to isolate the subject of the collective associations of victims are dealt either from a point of view psychological or historical and having a tendency to forget the contribution of the social and politic sciences.
Nevertheless we consider urgent and necessary to contribute to analyse deeply the “cause of victims” in Spain – the way it was set up and the types of reply which have been given rise – such as it is noticed in the mobilizations around the terrorism, Franco system and the civil war and whose bet in politician it is more and more important in Spain nowadays.
In this way, this international and interdisciplinary symposium will meet sociologists, anthropologists, political researchers and historians who will try to compare systematically which it is noticed in Spain from other fields of European investigations (France, Italy, Ex-Yugoslavia, etc). Therefore the aim is to get to know why is special and important the Spanish case in the potential development of the feeling of “victimhood” in Europe during the XX and XXI centuries.
Conference website:

Arnaud Esquerre, "Les Os, les cendres et l’État". Paris, Fayard, 2011

Who in Europe, is concerned today with bones and ashes of the deceased? French sociologist Arnaud Esquerre reveals that the French State has never so much cared for the dead than these last decades. Removing the church’s control over the fate of the corpses, it has indeed expanded its hold on the territory of bones and ashes. Since the 1970s, the report of human remains has indeed changed radically with the use of increasingly massive cremation, requests for return of human remains to “indigenous peoples”, the media coverage of the desecration of cemeteries or the development of DNA analysis and medical imaging. Continuer la lecture de Arnaud Esquerre, "Les Os, les cendres et l’État". Paris, Fayard, 2011