Uncertain Belongings. Absent mourning, burial, and post-mortem repatriations at the external border of the EU in Spain

Perl, Gerhild (2016). Uncertain Belongings. Absent mourning, burial, and post-mortem repatriations at the external border of the EU in Spain. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 37(2), pp. 195-209. Routledge 10.1080/07256868.2016.1141758

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Since the mid-1980s, migrants from North African and sub-Saharan countries have irregularly crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, in the hope of a better future for themselves and their families. Travelling in small, poorly equipped boats without experienced captains has cost the lives of myriad border crossers. Many of these bodies will never be recovered and the bereaved will never know whether their relatives and friends are alive or not. The bereaved are thus condemned to a state of not knowing and uncertainty. Exploring the junction of death and belonging, I firstly open a discussion about the enigmatic relation between a dead body and a dead person and argue for the importance of the physical presence of the body for mourning. Secondly, I show how the anonymity of dead border crossers and their uncertain belongings are generated, concealed, or rewritten. Following the story of an undertaker, I thirdly examine post-mortem border crossings. Depicting the power relations within identification processes, I outline the ambiguity of the term belonging by emphasising the constitutive significance of personal belongings such as clothes to restore a person’s identity. Reflecting on the ethical relationships which different actors (including the researcher) undertake with the deceased, I aim at gaining a better understanding of the multiple belonging of dead border crossers found on Spanish shores.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Social Anthropology

UniBE Contributor:

Perl, Gerhild


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology








Gerhild Perl

Date Deposited:

30 Nov 2015 15:37

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:50

Publisher DOI:






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