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Core Course Lent 2021

Centre of Latin American Studies


The Politics of Disappearance,  Past and Present

Graham Denyer Willis

Latin America has a long and troubled history of disappearance. But what makes disappearance political? Disappearance is most often associated with Cold War dictatorships, becoming the topic of contested processes of exhumation and reconciliation, truth and the assertion of democracy and liberalism in the ‘end of history’. And yet, disappearance continues as an acute problem. In São Paulo, year after year, 20-25,000 people ‘go missing’. The borderland of Mexico and the United States is a ‘land of open graves’, with bodies that are unidentified, unidentifiable, ignored -or all of these. By definition, they have disappeared; not being known, shrouded in silence for some one, or someones, somewhere.   

This session asks what we should make of disappearance by thinking historically, through contemporary examples, and with an attention to power, the state and capitalism in Latin America. 


  • Araújo, Fábio Alves. "“Não tem corpo, não tem crime”: notas socioantropológicas sobre o ato de fazer desaparecer corpos." Horizontes antropológicos 46 (2016): 37-64.   (Where you can read Portuguese) 
  • Davis, D. (2016). “The Bone Collectors” Comments for Sorrow as Artifact: Black Radical Mothering in Times of Terror. Transforming Anthropology 24 (1), 8–16.
  • De León, Jason. 2015. The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. Oakland: University of California Press.
  • Denyer Willis, G. (2020). Mundane disappearance: The Politics of letting disappear in Brazil. Economy and Society. (Moodle)
  • Ferrándiz, Francisco and Antonius Robben. 2015. Necropolitics: Mass Graves and Exhumations in the Age of Human Rights. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Verdery, K. (1999). The political lives of dead bodies: Reburial and postsocialist change. Columbia University Press.
  • Wright, M. W. (2017). Epistemological ignorances and fighting for the disappeared: lessons from Mexico. Antipode49(1), 249-269.