Liminality and Missing Persons

Encountering the Missing in Postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina

in Conflict and Society
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ABSTRACT

In many armed conflicts, forced disappearances and hiding the bodies of victims of mass atrocities are used strategically. This article argues that disappearances are powerful weapons, as their consequences reach from the most intimate relations to the formation of political communities. Consequently, political projects of forced disappearances leave difficult legacies for post-conflict reconciliation, and they give rise to a need to address individuals’ and families’ needs as well as relations between national and political groups implicated in the conflict. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this articles explores the question of missing persons in post-1992 Bosnia. The processes of identification and practices of remembering and commemorating the missing are analyzed through the concept of liminality. The article argues that the future-oriented temporality of liminality gives rise to numerous practices of encountering the enigma of the missing, while the political atmosphere of postwar Bosnia restricts possibilities of communitas-type relationality across ethnonational differences.

Contributor Notes

LAURA HUTTUNEN is professor of anthropology at the University of Tampere, Finland. Her research interests include Bosnian diaspora, transnational connectivity, and autobiographic memory work. Her latest research project “Absence and liminality: Missing persons and the social order,” funded by the Collegium for Advanced Social Research at the University of Tampere, focused on the social and political dimension of missing persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Conflict and Society

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