14. Ethnographic approaches to recording migrant deaths and disappearances

Linda Haapajärvi, University of Helsinki / Centre Maurice Halbwachs (CNRS-EHESS-ENS), linda.haapajarvi@ehess.fr (contact scholar)

Linda Haapajärvi a migration scholar specialized in the ethnographic research of inequalities. Her current Academy of Finland funded research project focuses on the foundational role the practice of body repatriation plays in sustaining transnational families, communities, states, and markets. Trained as a sociologist, her previous research projects span urban ethnography and analyses of public policies that shape the citizenship of racially and socially marginalized groups in France and Finland and has been featured, among others, in Nordic Journal of Migration Research, Ethnography, Politics & Policy, Lien social et politiques and Revue européenne des migrations internationales. 

Filippo Furri, Migreurop, furrifilippo@hotmail.com

Filippo Furri has worked extensively on migrations in the Mediterranean region with a particular focus on border deaths and asylum policy in Italy. Besides finalizing a doctoral thesis in anthropology on these issues, Filippo is active in Migreurop and Border Forensics, two organizations that respectively defend migrants’ rights and develop innovative methods of spatial and visual analysis to investigating border violence. His research results have been published, for instance, in Scienza & Politica, Vacarme, Plein droit, Migration letters and edited volumes.

Population registers are a key technology through which modern states seek to categorize and govern their citizens. As such, they act as carriers of powerful political projects: they bestow individuals with rights and regulate their treatment by public authorities. In a world shaped by intense cross-border mobilities, state bureaucracies are however challenged by the presence on their territory of non-citizens of different statuses. From the bureaucratic point of view, disappeared and dead migrants are a particularly problematic category. The location and vital status of the first, the identity of the former is often unknown. It maybe unclear which actors – local, national, supranational – should take responsibility for them and how they should be ‘processed’. Whether on purpose or unintentionally, for practical shortcomings or political reasons, dead and disappeared migrants may leave little, if any, traces in standard administrative registers. This panel invites contributions from scholars involved in researching migrant deaths and disappearances as well as the cross-border mobility of migrants’ mortal remains, issues that acutely challenge the bureaucracies in charge of governing population flows. We are particularly interested in attempts to record migrant deaths, disappearances and post-mortem mobilities based on innovative methodological approaches, for instance by producing local-level databases of dead migrants, by tracing the disappeared online, or by “counter forensic” initiatives premised on novel technologies of visual and spatial analysis. We ask how such alternative ways of recording migrant deaths and disappearances complement the established bureaucratic methods and databases. We encourage submissions from researchers examining the multi-layered governance of migrant deaths and disappearance that elucidates the actors, practices, and logics at play by means of the ethnographic method. Our aim is to offer a forum for scholars to critically examine governance of migrant deaths and disappearances based on original empirical research conducted in this quickly growing field of inquiry.

How do ethnographers locate, identify, and record dead and/or disappeared migrants ? How do they account for the cross-border circulation of migrants’ mortal remains?

Who are the ethnographers’ allies on these terrains ? What forms does the novel data take ? 

How is the data complementary to other types of (register) data? What is it evidence of beyond ‘numbers’: actors, practices, logics of governing migrant deaths and disappearances ?

What is the ethnographic investigations’ influence on the actors involved in treating dead migrants or tracing the disappeared? How do these inquiries impact the afterlives of dead border-crossers? How are these analytical endeavours influenced by the ethnographer(s) involved and how do they shape the ethnographers in return?

Border forensics, database, death, disappearance, governance, human remains, migration, online ethnography

Anthropology of the state, death studies, governance studies, migration studies, political anthropology and sociology, research on disappearance

Baraybar, José Pablo; Caridi, Inés and Stockwell, Jill. 2020. A Forensic Perspective on the New Disappeared: Migration Revisited. In Parra, Roberto; Zapico, Sara and Ubelaker, Douglas(eds.), Forensic Science and Humanitarian Action: Interacting with the Dead and the Living. New Jersey: Wiley. pp. 101-115.

Cuttitta, Paolo and Last, Tamara (eds.) 2020. Border Deaths: Causes, Dynamics and Consequences of Migration-related Mortality. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. 

Diaz, Paola and Nicolosi, Guido. 2019. Corps, identités et technologies « par les nombres » dans l’imaginaire migratoire. Socio-anthropologie, 40 (1), 9-28.

Furri, Filippo and Carolina Kobelinsky. 2021. La morte alle frontiere: dispositivo umanitario, gestione dei corpi e pratiche di accoglienza nella città di Catania. Scienza & Politica, 33(64), 69–90.

Heller, Charles  and Pécoud, Antoine. 2019. Counting Migrants’ Deaths at the Border: From Civil society Counterstatistics to (Inter)Governmental Recuperation. American Behavioural Scientist, 64 (4), 480-500.

Huttunen, Laura. 2020. Conceptualizing Disappearances: From Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Present-Day Migration Order. In Schindel, Estela and Gatti, Gabriel (eds.) Social Disappearance. Explorations between Latin America and Eastern Europe. Berlin: Dossiers, Forum Transregionale Studien. pp. 104-116.

Kobelinsky, Carolina ; Furri, Filippo Furri & Noûs, Camille. 2021. The Place of the Dead in the Mediterranean. A Sicilian Experience. Migration Letters, 18 (6), 711-719.

Last, Tamara et al. 2017. Deaths at the borders database: evidence of deceased migrants’ bodies found along the southern external borders of the European Union. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 43 (5), 693–712.

Salado Puerto, Mercedes et al. 2021. The search process: Integrating the investigation and identification of missing and unidentified persons. Forensic Science International, 9 (3), 100154.

Sørensen, Ninna Nyberg and Huttunen, Laura. 2020. Missing Migrants and the Politics of Disappearance in Armed Conflicts and Migratory Contexts. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, 87 (2), 321-337.

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