On the trail of Mexico’s disappeared

By Sabrina Melenotte


For the past twelve years, Mexico has experienced extreme and massive violence that has profoundly changed the political, cultural, and social treatment of the disappeared and of mass deaths. Having recently become a priority on the political agenda, disappearance (forced or otherwise) remains a mystery for the living, haunted by uncertainty and the ghosts of the missing. Faced with the state’s inaction, the families of the victims take “justice into their own hands” and ward off these tragic deaths in two principal ways: by “reading the earth” in order to locate clandestine graves; and by “reading the corpse” in order to identify the victims of these disturbing deaths. Based on an ethnographic description of a Sunday search for clandestine graves carried out in 2016 with families from the “Disappeared Others” collective in Iguala, Guerrero, this article shows how following the traces of the disappeared involves much more than just excavation: inherent in the search for clandestine graves is the restoration of a material and symbolic order in the face of the macabre puzzle left behind by political and criminal violence. As such, it represents a new ritual, reintroducing meaning and sacredness in places where the traces of crimes have been camouflaged.


  • Mexico
  • Disappearances
  • Traces
  • Clandestine graves
  • Corpses
Go to the article on Cairn-int.info