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Necronationalism: managing race, death and the nation's skeletons

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This paper examines the construction of the Simon Wiesenthal Center ‘Museum of Tolerance (Jerusalem)’ over Mamilla Cemetery, one of the largest Muslim burial grounds in the region. Tracing the politics of death as exercised through the excavation of the cemetery, I consider how access to settler colonial memory is managed and renewed through the purging of Indigenous corporeality. Inspired by Achille Mbembe's sobering account of necropower, this paper conceptualizes power as a system of domination inscribed through the colonial management of deceased racial subjects and asks how we might understand systems of settler colonial power arranged through dehumanization of the already dead. I contend that the capacity to govern life after death is still firmly rooted in the reach of colonial power, and that by attending to the excavation and erasure of Mamilla Cemetery's deceased Palestinian subjects, we see a particular configuration of sovereignty defined through a calculus of absence. Identifying this practice of settler colonial nation building as ‘necronationalism’, I consider how power over life after death becomes the very terrain through which a nation is imagined.
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Keywords: Palestine/Israel; Zionism/race; memory; settler colonialism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology, York University, 4700 Keele St, Toronto, ON, M3J 1P3, Canada

Publication date: March 4, 2015

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