Missing: Persons and Politics

Jenny Edkins
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Stories of the missing offer profound insights into the tension between how political systems see us and how we see each other. The search for people who go missing as a result of war, political violence, genocide, or natural disaster reveals how forms of governance that objectify the person are challenged. Contemporary political systems treat persons instrumentally, as objects to be administered rather than as singular beings: the apparatus of government recognizes categories, not people. In contrast, relatives of the missing demand that authorities focus on a particular person: families and friends are looking for someone who to them is unique and irreplaceable.

    In Missing, Jenny Edkins highlights stories from a range of circumstances that shed light on this critical tension: the aftermath of World War II, when millions in Europe were displaced; the period following the fall of the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan in 2001 and the bombings in London in 2005; searches for military personnel missing in action; the thousands of political "disappearances" in Latin America; and in more quotidian circumstances where people walk out on their families and disappear of their own volition. When someone goes missing we often find that we didn't know them as well as we thought: there is a sense in which we are "missing" even to our nearest and dearest and even when we are present, not absent. In this thought-provoking book, Edkins investigates what this more profound "missingness" might mean in political terms.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6279-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    When someone goes missing, what’s happened doesn’t seem possible: people don’t just disappear. Sometimes all that is left to insist that the person was indeed once there is a photograph. These images are shown by those searching for the missing to everyone they meet. “This is my brother,” they say. “Have you seen him?” They are enlarged and carried aloft by those protesting disappearances in authoritarian regimes. “You took them away alive. We want them back alive,” they proclaim. Simple snapshots, torn from the family album, insist that this is a person, a person who exists, even though they may...

  6. Chapter 1 Missing Persons, Manhattan
    (pp. 15-37)

    Coming face-to-face with the photographs of those who disappeared in the rubble and dust of the World Trade Center towers in September 2001 is a disturbing experience, even for people not intimately involved with the events, and I write from that perspective. Word of what had happened spread quickly in London, where I was that day, meeting old friends and going to see exhibitions. Those who had heard the news were compelled to tell others about it. We were visiting the British Museum that afternoon and approached an attendant for directions to a particular Roman mosaic. He told us where...

  7. Chapter 2 Displaced Persons, Postwar Europe
    (pp. 38-57)

    In the aftermath of the Second World War, nearly forty million people, most of them civilians, were on the move across a devastated Europe in search of home or refuge. Many were walking from camp to camp, seeking news of relatives they had lost touch with in the turmoil; others were the uprooted and unwilling subjects of forced deportations from the East; yet others were escaping repatriation to the Russian zone. Invariably they were hungry, ill, exhausted. Prisoners of war awaited release, and victorious armies potential redeployment to Asia. Families had been separated, relatives killed, children lost or forsaken. Most...

  8. Chapter 3 Tracing Services
    (pp. 58-83)

    For many in Europe who had lost touch with family members after the Second World War, reestablishing contact was a first priority, taking precedence over other concerns. While the military authorities in charge of postconflict reconstruction were first oblivious to this need, focusing instead on military priorities and on repatriation, voluntary agencies took an active role in tracing missing relatives. Jacques Rancière reminds us that “in order to enter into political exchange, it becomes necessary to invent the scene upon which spoken words may be audible, in which objects may be visible, and individuals themselves may be recognized.”¹ It was...

  9. Chapter 4 Missing Persons, London
    (pp. 84-106)

    On July 7, 2005, nearly four years after the collapse of the World Trade Center, there were three explosions on the London underground during the early morning rush hour. Initially a power surge was blamed, but it was apparent to many Londoners from the start that this was likely to be something more. What exactly had happened remained unclear for some time. Communication with workers and passengers underground was hampered by the absence of radios or phones that worked, and emergency workers did not enter the tunnels at first for fear of secondary explosions or contamination. The injured on the...

  10. Chapter 5 Forensic Identification
    (pp. 107-130)

    In the first few days after September 11, it was impossible for ordinary New Yorkers to approach Ground Zero.¹ Manhattan below Fourteenth Street was cordoned off, inaccessible at first even to those who lived there. To get past the official barricades required a firefighter’s badge or some subterfuge. The formerly open city had been closed, fenced, and guarded. This inaccessibility was one of the things that generated feelings of powerlessness in those affected but unable to help. Groups of people gathered in the squares and parks closest to the scene: Union Square and later Washington Square were focal points. As...

  11. Chapter 6 Missing in Action
    (pp. 131-154)

    In July 2010 a project to identify and reinter British and Australian soldiers missing in action in the First World War culminated in the ceremonial burial of the final unknown soldier at a newly constructed Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Fromelles in northern France. This chapter opens with the story of this project. In this account, we find in microcosm many of the questions that arise in relation to missing military personnel, questions that have been raised in the aftermath of many conflicts: To whom do the bodies of the missing in action belong?¹ Who should decide how they...

  12. Chapter 7 Disappeared, Argentina
    (pp. 155-174)

    In Argentina’s so-called dirty war from 1976 to 1983 over thirty thousand people were “disappeared” by the military regime.¹ This was, as Lawrence Weschler writes, “a diabolically effective tactic.” If the aim was “to take people who had started behaving like subjects . . . and turn them back into good little mute and neutered objects once again,” then as a tactic it could not have been bettered. Not only were opponents of the regime eliminated; their friends and relatives who might otherwise have been working in opposition to the regime too were instead reduced “to ever more desperate and...

  13. Chapter 8 Ambiguous Loss
    (pp. 175-193)

    When people go missing in the aftermath of the violence of wars or disasters, it is likely that they did not go missing voluntarily. Authoritarian regimes may try to persuade relatives of the disappeared that those they are concerned about have absconded of their own will, as happened in Argentina, but it is highly unlikely to be the case. But when people go missing in other circumstances, it can be deliberate; only very few are likely to be victims of abduction or murder. This chapter considers instances in which people abscond or voluntarily break contacts with families and friends. They...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 194-198)

    Although much recent political theory and philosophy has focused on critical analyses of contemporary politics and forms of governance, there have been a number of attempts to think about a different politics, a politics that does not objectify the person but works with uniqueness and singularity.¹ Such a politics would entail forms of community very different from those that are built on the assumption of community as the coming together of separate individuals who share something in common. Is such a thing possible? How would it work? What does it mean to think in such terms?

    This book has been...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 199-242)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-266)
  17. Index
    (pp. 267-278)