Accepted Paper:

"If races don't exist, why are forensic anthropologists so good at identifying them?" Anthropology and metric ancestry estimation: a critical examination of FORDISC and CRANID  


Sarah Fruendt (University College Freiburg)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will look at the underlying assumptions of two programmes for metric ancestry estimation used in contemporary anthropology. I will argue that not only their approach to human variation can be questioned, but that there are also several epistemological problems meriting closer inspection.

Paper long abstract:

More than 60 years have passed since the publication of Ashley Montagu's influential work "Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race" (1942) and the consecutive publication of the UNESCO's statement "The Race Question" (1950). Yet, especially in the disciplines of physical and forensic anthropology, the debate on the existence or non-existence of race is still far from being settled. In the 1990s, two computer programmes (FORDISC and CRANID) were developed to support and simplify the estimation of ancestry from the human skull. While both of them shy away from the biological race term, they nevertheless use concepts such as social race or geographic ancestry, which are based on the assumption that humanity can be divided into certain categories based on cranial shape. This paper will look at the underlying assumptions of the programmes and examine the contexts in which they are used today. It will especially emphasize the sampling processes that were used in building up the comparative databases for the programmes as well as the particular categories used (many of which have a long conceptual history). I want to argue that not only the entire approach to human variation could be questioned, but that there also several underlying epistemological problems with the programmes that merit closer inspection. This seems not only relevant because they are used in forensic contexts and thus have direct consequences on legal cases, but also because they indirectly support the use of racial categories in legal, political, and social settings.

Panel P026
The anthropology of race and ethnicity network launch [ARE]