Excavation and Activism

How the Careers of Archeologists and Anthropologists Can Account for the Cause of the “Disappeared”
By Sélim Smaoui


The “victims of Francoism” have, since the start of the twenty-first century, been at the heart of a cause located at the crossroads between memory and its transmission on the one hand, and referents drawn from international “postconflict” practices on the other (including “victims” advocacy mobilizations, “reconciliation” policies, or the struggle for “truth” and against “impunity”).In order to document such a hybridization process, this article departs from the individual trajectories of a particular category of actors involved in such a cause. Rather than focusing on relatives of the “disappeared,” it looks at professionals—archaeologists and physical anthropologists—who are involved in the search for and identification of the bodies buried in mass graves. Their skills contribute directly to shaping the cause that they further.This article is interested as much in the process of their involvement as it is in their thorough approach of sensitive experiments that stem from the practical handling of a public issue. It shows that, far from being purely coincidental or consisting mainly of instrumental resources for action, “memory” has in fact emerged as an issue along with postconflict-related moral precepts (“truth,” “reparation,” “struggle against impunity,” or “disappeared”). Moreover, experts also experience these at an affective and intellectual level, as well as in line with personal concerns and inclinations forged in their own biographies. Through diachronically addressing the various contexts of their socialization (family, activism, career), I show that these actors have gone through a whole set of sensitive, cognitive, or moral experiences over a long period that have led them to internalize frameworks of interpretations (be they militant, scientific, or moral) that, in turn, prove key to their input in shaping the cause of victims.
Go to the article on Cairn-int.info