Jason De León will give a lecture entitled “The Land of Open Graves: Necroviolence and the Politics of Migrant Death in the Arizona Desert”. The event will be held in the Bob and Sheila Hoerle Lecture Hall, 63 5th Avenue Building (University Center), Lower Level, room UL 105.
Since the mid-1990s’, the U.S. federal government has relied on a border enforcement strategy known as “Prevention Through Deterrence.” Using various security infrastructure and techniques of surveillance, this strategy funnels undocumented migrants towards remote and rugged terrain such as the Sonoran Desert of Arizona with the hope that mountains ranges, extreme temperatures, and other “natural” obstacles will deter people from unauthorized entry. Hundreds of people perish annually while undertaking this dangerous activity. Since 2009, the Undocumented Migration Project has used a combination of forensic, archaeological, and ethnographic approaches to understand the various forms of violence that characterize the social process of clandestine migration.
In this presentation Prof. De León focusses on what happens to the bodies of migrants who die in the desert. Drawing on the archaeological concept of taphonomy (i.e., the various post-mortemprocesses that impact biological remains), he argues that the way that bodies decompose in this environment is a form of hidden political violence that has deep ideological roots.
Using ethnographic data from New York and Ecuador, Prof. De León focusses on the families of people who have lost loved ones in the desert and demonstrate how the post-mortem destruction of migrant corpses creates devastating forms of long-lasting trauma.
Jason De León is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. His research interests include theories of violence, materiality, death and mourning, Latin American migration, crime and forensic analyses, and archaeology of the contemporary. He directs the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), a long-term study of clandestine border crossing that uses a combination of ethnographic, archaeological, and forensic approaches to understand thisphenomenon in a variety of geographic contexts including the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona, Northern Mexican border towns, and the southern Mexico/Guatemala border. His forthcoming book The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail (University of California Press) will be published October 2015.