What Elena Poniatowska and Ayotzinapa can tell us about subjectivity and violence

I have been writing about violence and subjectivity for my forthcoming monograph. This led me to reflect on the value placed on a life and how significant a fully realised representation is. It may seem obvious to say, but individual lives can become invisible when the numbers of victims grow. Therefore, acknowledging the subjectivity of victims of assault and murder is fundamental to comprehending violence and apprehending lives (see, Butler 2009). Providing salient features about individuals that reveal something about their characters and the known details about their deaths humanises them. An example of this can be found in Elena Poniatowska’s (2014) speech at a protest demanding the return of the missing 43 students from Ayotzinapa. Consistent with her attention to those often glossed over in historiography, she provides details about the students’ ambitions, interests, and interpersonal relations in order to challenge the logic of forgetting and elision that renders victims invisible (Poniatowska 2014 and 2018). Even where details are shown, other factors can mitigate against apprehending lives. Nonetheless, Poniatowska demonstrates one of the ways loss can be articulated especially when the numbers of dead are large.


Butler, Judith (2009) Frames of War: When is Life Grievable London & New York: Seagull Books.

Poniatowska, Elena (2014) “Ayotzinapa”, 13 November, translated by Juana Adcock, Words Without Borders https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/dispatches/article/ayotzinapa

—. (2018) “Poniatowska compara los 43 de Ayotzinapa con matanza del 68”, 6 September, Agencia EFE, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0J87E21DPA

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