Matthew Wolfe

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

New York U.

Grant number

Gr. 10481

Approve Date

April 6, 2023

Project Title

Wolfe, Matthew (New York U.) "Triaging the Lost: Care, Austerity, and The State Response to Missing Persons"

Every year, over a half million individuals are reported missing to local law enforcement agencies in the United States. The consequences of the ambiguous absences that prompt missing person reports are reliably pernicious, exacting a psychological toll on families and heightened risks of injury to the missing. While anthropologists have begun exploring how support is allocated to individuals who have disappeared in the context of combat, political repression, and irregular migration, there is little understanding of how states respond to persons who become missing in more quotidian circumstances. This project investigates how governments triage scarce services to vulnerable populations, using as a case study the missing persons bureau of a large metropolitan police department. Through interviews and ethnographic observation of the detectives in the LAPD, my research seeks to understand how such absences are defined, interpreted, and classified, such that some disappearances ‘ through discourse around the missing’s observable traits, including race, gender, socio-economic status, and mental health history ‘ are naturalized as ‘normal’ and ignored, while others, seen as ‘abnormal,’ are deemed worthy of official concern. These findings will help anthropologists understand how critical decisions about who receives care from the state are justified under conditions of fiscal austerity.