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The Political Lives of Dead Bodies


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Since 1989, scores of bodies across Eastern Europe have been exhumed and brought to rest in new gravesites. Verdery investigates why certain corpses have taken on political life in the turbulent times following the end of Communist Party rule.

About the Author

Katherine Verdery is Eric R. Wolf Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. She is the author of What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next?; National Ideology Under Socialism; and Transylvanian Villagers.


In this intriguing book, anthropologist Verderyby her own admission a student of dead-body politicspoints out that some corpses have lived interesting livesabove all in Eastern Europe since the fall of communism. Her central question is, What is it about a corpse that seems to invite its use in politics? In the case of her chosen region, the answer is frequently, Plenty. While citing the examples of Nicholas II, Lenin, Imre Nagy, and others, she concentrates most attention on the post-death adventures of a Transylvanian bishop unknown outside Romania and little known inside. She freights this choice with a heavy significance whose justification is not readily apparent. Verderys profiles of these exhumations of sacred and profane figures and their posthumous travels should appeal to an academic audience in anthropology and sociology.Robert H. Johnston, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, Ontario

A pithy, and highly readable, example of current anthropological approaches to national-level politics. The emergence of such a focus on national-level processes is one of the most important developments in the anthropological study of politics today. -- David I. Kertzer Journal of Interdisciplinary History Unusual and provocative... designed to provoke discussion and debate, rather than close it. Slavic and East European Journal Verdery certainly deserves praise for having opened up an intriguing (and understudied) topic. The book leaves us hoping for a sequel. -- Derek Bickerton The New York Times Book Review For those jaded by a view of nationalis as ' a matter of territorial borders, state-making, "constructionism", or resource competition,' Verdery's work offers welcome refreshment. Social Anthropology Were Verdery not one of the premier anthropologists and specialists on eastern Europe, most readers might not take seriously a book that the author herself half-jokingly calls a study in political necrophilia...But this exploration... is entirely serious. Foreign Affairs The affairs of Eastern Europe, and especially those of the lands that were once Yugoslavia, now hold the attention of the entire world. Verdery gives readers a new angle of vision on this troubled region. -- Carl L. Bankston III Commonweal Writing about a topic involving corpses and reburials presents its own challenges, and Verdery has mastered them admirably. Neither lurid nor cynical, neither too dry nor too sanctimonious, her prose is on the whole matter-of-factly, but not without lighthearted moments. -- Gerhard Sonnert Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism

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