Iron in the soil: Living with military waste in Bosnia-Herzegovina


  • David Henig

    1. Completed his doctoral studies as the Wenner Gren Foundation's Wadsworth International Fellow in anthropology at the University of Durham. He is currently honorary research associate at the Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing, University of Kent at Canterbury, with a research focus on the Balkans and Central Asia. He is also Senior Teaching Fellow at SOAS. He has co-authored several articles on the true dream tradition in Islam, postsocialism and anthropological research. His email is
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  • This research was generously supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation (Wadsworth International Fellowship). I am also grateful to Stephen M. Lyon, Iain R. Edgar, Matei Candea, Michael Carrithers, Robert Layton and Emma O'Driscoll for their insightful comments. I would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers who helped me to clarify and develop my arguments. The responsibility for any mistakes rests solely with the author.


Waste, in particular the waste produced by conflicts, has become a serious matter of concern in recent scholarship on materiality and society. But what is military post-conflict waste, and what kind of materiality does it entail? This article retrains an ethnographic focus on post-conflict materiality away from visible and easily recognized entities such as politicized monuments, towards (in)visible and misrecognized war remnants, those parts buried in the soil, in trees and sometimes in people's bodies. The article focuses on people's quotidian practices of re-creating, re-relating to and re-dwelling in the world in the presence of military waste in rural Bosnia. It calls for an inclusive scholarship of materiality that takes the material-cum-emotional affects and effects that these material objects discharge upon persons as a matter of serious concern. The themes discussed in the article have far-reaching implications, not just for Bosnian postwar anthropology, but for critically engaged anthropology and the role of the discipline in the contemporary world.