Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In this paper, I want to engage the concept of “substitution” through the practices of death in the Philippines—in particular with regard to the ongoing and widespread extrajudicial killings (as part of Oplan Tokhang, an ostensible war on drugs) that has dominated discourses on governance, ethics, and death since 2016. My interest here is to argue that substitution and its contiguous concepts such as proxies and placeholders, are central to understanding how death is regulated by state forms of power, processed by medico-legal regimes, and importantly, is conceptualized within a specifically Christian ethic of life and afterlife. As death, and dead bodies, have become a central node through which discourses on Philippine governance intersect, I describe how a particular semiotics of anonymity and abstraction around death has emerged. Such forms of anonymity and abstraction are predicated on the ability to substitute, not only bodies for other bodies, but of forms of state regulation in place of a normative ethics of death and killing.