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Durham e-Theses
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We Were Seeds: The Socio-Political Economies of Forensic Anthropology After Political Violence

ROSEN, SARAH,MAYA (2020) We Were Seeds: The Socio-Political Economies of Forensic Anthropology After Political Violence. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 04 September 2022.


This thesis seeks to navigate the intersection of forensic anthropology and social anthropology applied in contexts after political violence. The first case study is the identification efforts in Guatemala run by the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) and the Ministerio Publico. The second case study is the World Trade Center identification efforts run by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York. Examinations of these examples reveal the complex nature of forensic anthropology after political violence and how similar dynamics can emerge even in fundamentally distinct scenarios. This thesis argues that forensic anthropological work occurs in a matrix of influences, which serve and empower some demographics over others, as well as producing or maintaining narratives surrounding the violence. It is also argued that these disparities and narratives can be understood in terms of their political, socioeconomic, and academic functions within the identification effort. These disparities and narratives manifest from attributions of victimhood, prioritisation of some victims over others, institutionalised remembering and forgetting through interment, and in the multilateral and national responses to these delineations of victim. This thesis concludes that the systematic nature of these influences can be understood within an intersecting model. This allows for the nuanced examination of concomitant political, social, and academic influences at each level of the forensic anthropological endeavour—as all participants of the forensic anthropological endeavour are beholden to this matrix. The disparities in access and empowerment extend beyond merely the unidentified dead and impact the living loved-ones of the unidentified and missing, the forensic anthropologists themselves, and those who enable forensic anthropological projects through funding and administration. A holistic understanding of these contexts allows forensic anthropology to function in a transformative justice model, contributing to efforts that address the underlying causes of the violence as well as the symptoms of it. In light of this, a heuristic model for practitioners and administrators for forensic anthropological efforts may be found in the intersectional, functional model to account for systematic discrepancies in access and empowerment—although this model should be applied with nuanced understandings of relativism, descriptivism, and prescriptivism.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Forensic anthropology, political violence, Guatemala, World Trade Center, 9/11, FAFG, OCME, unidentified remains, skeletal analysis, access, empowerment, war crimes, genocide, terrorism, transformative justice, transitional justice, humanitarianism, intersectionality, functionalism, relativism, reflexivity, ethics in anthropology
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2020
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:01 Oct 2020 11:02

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