From the point of view of a cultural anthropologist engaged in the study of dead bodies, the transformative potential of the socio-cultural crisis is particularly strongly revealed in the local/ national/global necropolitics, that is, politics-after-life. The understanding of the crisis in the scope of interest here focuses on mass violence, leading to mass deaths, and the associated social transformations and political actions through which the human remains are assigned a specific symbolism that begins their new social, political and perpetuating “life” as objects of memory.
Necropolitics, being the key term, concerns the manipulation of dead bodies (as evidence of violence) in ways that serve current political interests. Such manipulations are noticeable in the face of all kinds of social crises and most often seek to introduce a one-sided metanarrative by intentional historical and heritage production. An example can be the exhumations of victims of armed conflicts of the 20th century, which now constitute an important aspect of social life and mass culture in countries like Spain, Argentina, and Rwanda.
Given the social and historical importance of post-war mass graves, some scholars argue that exhumations, as a practice taking place globally and closely related to significant historical events, should be considered and protected as an intangible cultural heritage. As highly symbolic crime evidence and a mirror of the past and current state of culture, human remains should be, in turn, treated as a specific kind of heritage of humanity.
Drawing on theoretical considerations and my own anthropological fieldwork experience from Spain, a review and critical analysis will be made of the postulates for inscribing mass graves and the human remains they contain on the national and/or world heritage lists. I will also discuss how exhumations and making the remains public are presented as a way of post-crisis social reconciliation and encourage a debate on the heritage status of mass graves/remains, considering that they are historically, socially and politically essential sites/objects shaping the current cultural landscape.