In Search of Presence
: Disappearance and Memory in Mexico

  • Danielle House

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores memory and memorialisation in response to contemporary disappearances in Mexico. Unlike previous cases of enforced disappearance under military dictatorship, in Mexico disappearance is taking place in an electoral democracy under, but not explained by, the context of the war on drugs. Using ethnographic, participatory, and collaborative methods, I explore memorials and sites of memory, arts-based projects responding to disappearance, and the actions of relatives searching for the disappeared and pursuing justice, to discuss what is revealed in the wake of disappearance. Rather than a focus on typical sites that narrate memory, I prioritise lived experiences of memory in the everyday lives of people who are living with the presence of absence. This thesis argues that how people respond to and construct life around disappearance reveals the precarity of liberal modernity, the politics of time and space, and relationality between people and with their environments. The people in this thesis are engaging in a politics of memory, resisting narratives that enact a politics of time to place unresolved injustices in the past, and using their own conceptualisations of memory to build community. Furthermore, I demonstrate how the process of making is a meaningful site of memory and its construction. In the processes of memorialising, making, searching, connecting, and rebuilding that we see throughout the thesis, transformations take place. These are transformations of people, places, objects, communities and more, which are overlooked locations of memory and politics. In these ways this thesis disrupts dominant conceptualisations of memory and disappearance and argues for a broadening of the ways we think and do memory.

Note on translation: all translations from Spanish to English are the author's.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorLucy Taylor (Supervisor) & Jenny Edkins (Supervisor)


  • memory
  • memorialisation
  • disappearance
  • Mexico
  • materiality
  • trace
  • time
  • politics
  • space
  • personhood

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