The politics of afterlives: Martyrs, sovereignty and the making of Kurdish political community

01 October 2019 → Ongoing
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
No data available
Afterlife sovereignty martyrdom Kurds political ethnography anthropology socio-materiality
Project description

How do dead people shape politics? In the Middle East and beyond, the dead recurrently stand at the heart of political contestations over sovereign power, whether they are celebrated or condemned, exalted or disowned, worshipped or mutilated. This research aims to explain this tenacity of the dead by interrogating political power not only as a question of disciplining life or inflicting death, but also as a question of governing afterlives. Departing from the idea that death represents not just the endpoint of politics but may unleash potent forces that political actors are keen to harness and direct, the project develops the notion of afterlife as central for an investigation into the making and unmaking of sovereignty. It studies in ethnographic detail the practices, discourses and actors that endow fallen guerrilla fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with potent afterlives as martyrs and transform them into nodes of sovereign power. In this way, the project develops a socio-material conceptualization of afterlives that expands existing theories of sovereignty and draws from the Kurdish case wide-ranging implications regarding the constitution of political power and the making of political community. Building on my long-term research record on political violence and subject formation in Kurdish communities, the project provides an alternative account of Kurdish politics beyond worn-out analytic frameworks of geopolitics and ethnic nationalism.