Accepted Paper:

The burden of proof and the burden of stigma: categories of suspicion and DNA forensic databases  


Manuela Cunha (Universidade do Minho, CRIA-UMinho)
Helena Machado (University of Minho)

Paper short abstract:

An exploration of prisoners’ views on the creation of a forensic DNA database in Portugal will sustain a reflection on their situatedness and on the categories of suspicion they mobilize. These will be examined in the light of a (re)visitation of different aspects of stigma discussed in prison studies in recent decades

Paper long abstract:

The introduction of bio-information technologies such as DNA profiling and databasing into criminal justice systems has been subject of conflicting claims involving confrontation between the 'certainty of science' and risk and uncertainty of human actions. While on the one hand DNA depiction as the gold standard for identifying individuals posits biotecnologies as a new "language of truth" that would reduce indeterminacy and uncertainty in crime detection and prevention, on the other hand they have in turn generated concerns and uncertainties about the social and ethical implications of the uses of genetic information.

An exploration of prisoners' reactions to the recent creation of a DNA database for criminal and civil identification purposes established in Portugal, and especially of their views on legal criteria for DNA profile removal, will be an occasion to reflect on the situatedness of the perceptions involved and on the categories of suspicion that they mobilize. Such categories of suspicion will be examined in the light of a (re)visitation of different aspects of stigma that have been discussed in literature about prison and imprisonment in recent decades.

Panel W041
Regulating uncertainty: anthropological approaches to spaces of uncertainty in and of law [EN & FR]