Forensic identification and identity politics in 2004 post-tsunami Thailand: Negotiating dissolving boundaries

Human Remains and Violence, Volume 1, No. 1 (2015), pp. 3-22
Claudia Merli, Trudi Buck
Publication Year
Asia and the Pacific
Thematic Area
Families / Forensics / The Search Process
Emergency / Identification / Management of the Dead / Recovery of remains / Excavation / Exhumation
Open access

This article considers the contexts and processes of forensic identification in 2004 post-tsunami Thailand as examples of identity politics. The presence of international forensic teams as carriers of diverse technical expertise overlapped with bureaucratic procedures put in place by the Thai government. The negotiation of unified forensic protocols and the production of estimates of identified nationals straddle biopolitics and thanatocracy. The immense identification task testified on the one hand to an effort to bring individual bodies back to mourning families and national soils, and on the other hand to determining collective ethnic and national bodies, making sense out of an inexorable and disordered dissolution of corporeal as well as political boundaries. Individual and national identities were the subject of competing efforts to bring order to the chaos, reaffirming the cogency of the body politic by mapping national boundaries abroad. The overwhelming forensic effort required by the exceptional circumstances also brought forward the socio-economic and ethnic disparities of the victims, whose post-mortem treatment and identification traced an indelible divide between us and them.