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Abstract

“They Are Not Just Bodies”: Memory, Death, and Democracy in post-Franco Spain, is an ethnography of a social movement dedicated to exhuming the over 130,000 civilians killed during the Spanish Civil War and buried in mass graves throughout the country. The “historical memory movement” – as this loose coalition of victims’ relatives, forensic scientists, volunteers, and political allies is collectively known – is united not only in their commitment to returning the physical remains of the disappeared to their kin for a proper burial, but also by the common conviction that recovering these deceased persons is essential for building a proper democracy in the 21st-Century. Based on over 19 months of multi-sited fieldwork throughout Castilian Spain, my manuscript shows how Spanish civil society organizations repurpose the forensic technologies that rose to prominence in Latin America’s state-led democratic transitions in order to critique their own country for its unwillingness to locate the disappeared. However, because Spanish exhumations lack a legal mandate, I argue that they do far more than produce evidence about past crimes. In post-Franco Spain, they become forensic rituals, by which the disappeared are transformed into dead persons, capable of exerting compelling claims on their compatriots and political communities. As previous scholarship on the increasing prominence of dead bodies in political transitions would suggest, Franco’s victims undergo a number of changes as their often unruly biographies and decomposing remains are disciplined into the sorts of beings with whom contemporary Spaniards can identify. But in contrast to prevailing accounts within post-conflict studies, I demonstrate that the dead are not just passive fetish objects, upon which the living project their own political aspirations. Through careful attention to the experiences of Spaniards at mass grave exhumations, public protests, educational events, and beyond, I demonstrate how the properly disciplined victims of Franco acquire the capacity to suggest, compel, and sometimes even demand action from their living compatriots. Mass grave exhumations are thus transformative processes not only for those being disinterred, but also for those observing these processes, who likewise undergo dramatic somatic, affective, and political shifts through their encounters these face-to-skull encounters. When successful, these forensic interventions yield not only new facts about the past, but more importantly new alliances between living and dead persons. Together, the counterpublics they form across the mortal divide can put forth radical democratic agendas that neither party could effectively advance in isolation. Form the production of authoritative narratives of past violence, to training citizens to inhabit a democratic subjectivity, and including the formation of compelling demands in the broader public sphere, this dissertation demonstrates how the historical memory movement fosters collaborations between living and dead persons. Ultimately, Spanish forensic interventions are not only a technique for reckoning with narratives about the past, nor only a form of embodied knowledge and identity. In addition, I suggest, these processes are best understood as a method for dis-membering the lingering influence of the fascist state and re-membering a more responsive democratic future. In post-Franco Spain, I argue that historical memory is an ontogenetic, world-making practice, which heralds not only the emergence of new actors, but possibly also a new political future for Spain.

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