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Ecologies of Remembrance: The Material Afterlives of Unidentified Death

General Programming

dateSeptember 11–12, 2019 location Barnard Hall, Sulzberger Parlor, Barnard College
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
  • First come, first seated

Ecologies of Remembrance: The Material Afterlives of Unidentified Death along the Central Mediterranean Migration Route

Wed, Sep 11, 2019, 3:15 PM – 8:30 PM &
Thu, Sep 12, 2019, 9 AM – 5 PM
Sulzberger Parlor, Barnard College

See more information and register here.

The news media around the Mediterranean are frequently dominated by the aftermath of maritime disasters in which dozens, sometimes hundreds of migrants die on the perilous crossing to southern Italy from North Africa. Whilst migrant death is a recurring subject in academic study and journalism, scarcely any research is carried out on the ground into the material and symbolic treatment of unidentified human remains. Yet the social afterlife of human remains is of immense importance in the case of migrant deaths because of the ways in which they bring into focus the webs of relations in which migrants are caught, bringing together transnational kinship networks, local landscapes, local communities and solidarity groups and wider political motivations and actions.

How do people dispose of the anonymous remains of such disasters? What kinds of social relationships and connections are generated by the process? What are their motivations and emotional involvements of the people concerned? And what are the historical resonances of these unique and complex mortuary practices? What are the political consequences of the sacralization of the loss of human life juxtaposed against the normalization of the bare life existence of displaced people? We bring together research papers on works of tracing, forensic investigation, and burial, connecting metropolitan centers with Tunisia, Sicily, Lampedusa and Calabria. This way, we intend our conference to demonstrate the entanglements between transnational kin networks, local landscapes and communities, religious and solidarity groups, and national and international political discourses. Through the exploration of mourning without kin, this conference will follow the trail of sorrow and justice, local ritual appeasing and burial of migrant remains.


Osman Balkan (Swathmore College)
Naor Ben-Yehoyada (Anthropology, Columbia)
Brian Boyd (Anthropology, Columbia)
Marc Brightman (University of Bologna)
Agnès S. Callamard (Columbia, UN-OHCHR)
Zoë Crossland (Anthropology, Columbia)
Matthew Engelke (Religion, Columbia)
Vanessa Grotti (European University Institute)
Yannis Hamilakis (Anthropology, Brown)
Lorena Luciano (Director, It Will Be Chaos)
Filippo Piscopo (Director, It Will Be Chaos)
J.C. Salyer (Anthropology and Human Rights, Barnard)
Sarah Wagner (Anthropology, George Washington University)
Valentina Zagaria (London School of Economics)
Leah Zamore (Center for International Cooperation, NYU)

The Conference is co-sponsored by the ISERP Conference Funding Grant, the Faculty Fellowship Program at the Heyman Center for the Humanities, The Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, the Anthropology Department, the CSSD Working Group on Migrant Personhood and Rights: A Crisis of Recognition, the Columbia Center for Archaeology, and the Barnard Human Rights Program. It continues a Wenner-Gren funded research project co-directed by Vanessa Grotti and Marc Brightman, in which Naor Ben-Yehoyada is collaborating.