Search/ing for missing people: families living with ambiguous absence

Hester Parr, Olivia Stevenson, Penny Woolnough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
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Families of missing people are often understood as inhabiting a particular space of ambiguity, captured in the phrase ‘living in limbo’ (Holmes, 2008). To explore this uncertain ground, we interviewed 25 family members to consider how human absence is acted upon and not just felt within this space ‘in between’ grief and loss (Wayland, 2007). In the paper, we represent families as active agents in spatial stories of ‘living in limbo’, and we provide insights into the diverse strategies of search/ing (technical, physical and emotional) in which they engage to locate either their missing member or news of them. Responses to absence are shown to be intimately bound up with unstable spatial knowledges of the missing person and emotional actions that are subject to change over time. We suggest that practices of search are not just locative actions, but act as transformative processes providing insights into how families inhabit emotional dynamism and transition in response to the on-going ‘missing situation’ and ambiguous loss (Boss, 1999, 2013).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-75
Number of pages10
JournalEmotion, Space and Society
Early online date28 Sep 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


  • Families
  • Missing people
  • Absence
  • Ambiguous loss
  • Search


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