Human Studies

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 293–311 | Cite as

The Knowledge of People Disappeared During Argentina’s Military Rule

  • Ram Natarajan
Empirical Study/Analysis


Antonio Ruiz (a pseudonym) is an officer who took part in the Argentine 1976–1983 military rule and disappeared the body of a tortured woman. My aim is to offer an ethnographic account of the embodiment of the knowledge of bodies—the local moral worlds in which the officer Antonio and his wife lived and legitimated state violence by imagining themselves as victims, and Antonio subsequently followed his commander’s order and buried the body of a tortured woman. The armed forces provided soldiers of the armed formal manuals in which political violence was described as an ever-present threat. At home Antonio and his wife exchanged accounts detailing the risk of armed struggle to their fledgling family, with Antonio carrying out commissions of repression as father and husband and not only soldier. The narratives officers constructed and acted upon about themselves as imagined victims linger to this day in contemporary Argentina in the form of the disappeared—the missing thousands who remain unaccounted for, buried in unknown, clandestine graves or drowned alive at sea, with thousands of family members suspended in doubt, unsure where the disappeared might truly be, and whether they live or died.


Memory Argentina Disappearances State violence Perpetrators 



In March of 2015 I presented an earlier version of this paper at the “Visibility, Embodiment, and Empathy” conference at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University. I thank Thiemo Breyer for inviting me to participate in the conference and the subsequent special issue. And I thank Moyukh Chatterjee, Julie Taylor, Yasmin Moll, Samuel Anderson, Renato Rosaldo, Sally Merry and the journal’s anonymous review for feedback at different stages of writing. The Andrew Mellon Foundation/Social Sciences Research Council, the National Sciences Foundation, and the Wenner Gren Foundation funded this research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Standards

The Institutional Review Board at New York University approved this research under HS#: (10-0357) “The Power of Memory: Transitional Justice and the Aftermath of Argentina’s Dirty War”.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of ArkansasFayettevilleUSA

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