Derivative Presence: Loss and Lives in Limbo in the West Bank

  • Lotte BuchEmail author


My endeavor to enquire ethnographically into absence - absence of words, of social categories and of human lives in discourse and imaginaries - seems to spur particular and significant reactions in the course of conversation. When I tell people, academics or NGO representatives based in Palestine, Geneva, or Amman about my study of politics and affect among wives of political detainees from the West Bank, the reactions are not as diverse as one might envision. Some say, with a shrug, “Oh, I see, but do you also speak with the detainees themselves? Because, as you know, they are the ones who are truly suffering”? Another response is “Why don’t you speak with the martyr’s widows or their mothers instead, that will tell you what suffering is really about in Palestine.” Revealing what is taken to be a proper infliction and what is not these comments point toward the existence of a register of acknowledging suffering in Palestinian life. In this register, there are those whose ailment is ranked, yet there are also those whose place in the register is less a place than a void. These are the women who are married to Palestinian detainees, women who can be said to be present in that register exclusively by means of their detained husband’s absence. The presence of certain forms of life and of suffering in the imaginary (Taylor 2004) of what is worth paying attention to discloses what Runia has termed “the stowaway to presence,” namely a void, an absence that is invisible yet intrinsically there (Runia 2006b: 1). Conceptualizing the matter of absence in the lives of Palestinian women related to either martyrs or detainees is the object of this chapter.


Social Presence Occupied Territory Palestinian Woman Israeli Occupation Occupied Palestinian Territory 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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