Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Immigration/Migration/Citizenship
Secondary Theme: Violence
Dismemberment violently cuts and mutilates, appearing most often in anthropology in reference to forensic research, to a body no longer a body, a lifeless shell. However, dismemberment can also involve different scales: it can concern the human but also the collective body. Thus, what happens when relations are violently cut between people, and between people and places? How do lives continue while people carry these severed ties within them? These multi-scalar dismemberments seem to produce absences that act as phantom limbs (Bille, Hastrup & Sørensen 2010) for both person and society: these chimeric relations cause strong feelings and sensations, ever-present in the enduring process of fashioning personhood and collectivity.
In this panel, we propose to rethink mobility and displacement as dismemberment and analyse the impact that such a reconceptualisation might have on our understanding of past and present instances of enforced movement, and their consequences – from the trans-atlantic slave trade to the contemporary exile of Syrians across the globe, from the desperate crossing of seas, deserts and mountain ranges to the disarticulations caused by incarceration, and rural to urban migrations as a result of myriad State and Corporate atrocities. Mobility and displacement have become significant concepts for describing contemporary migration in anthropology. They have importantly evoked the sudden loss of place and community commonly faced by people globally, and the exclusionary politics of capitalism and nation-state that has often created these movements. However, we also feel that these concepts can often miss their mark descriptively and analytically. In their focus on the spatio-temporal dimensions of migration, mobility and displacement most crudely reveal their detachment from the people and collectivities who are made to move, and thus from the persistent and actual violence of those experiences.
Thinking in terms of dismemberment, we argue, aims to redirect our focus, offering a conceptual tool that invites us to put personhood and relations between people at the centre of analysis about enforced movement of various kinds. In doing so, we challenge the view that such violent instances should provide us with heuristic glimpses of self-sacrificing endurance.
In trying to understand the consequences of violent displacement it is in the person’s body and sense of self – which enforced movement penetrates so deeply and in so many ways – that anthropology should look for its conceptual underpinnings. Perhaps it is by beginning with the person who might be moving but feels like she is going nowhere, peoples who have had to stay behind, the person who has lost family
and place but carries them within her – persons and peoples dismembered – that we can begin to articulate new ideas of space and time that truly challenge the violence of contemporary State and Corporate action.