Accepted Paper:

Materializing the (criminal) body: Science and culture in forensic genetics  


Filipe Santos (Universidade de Coimbra)
Helena Machado (University of Minho)

Paper short abstract:

This paper aims to explore a particular instance of entangling the body, technoscience and culture: the materialization of (criminal) bodies through forensic genetic technologies. We focus the production of expert evidence as a hybrid assemblage of experiential and credentialed knowledge.

Paper long abstract:

Forensic genetics focuses on fractions of the body - biological samples - in order to render visual and numerical representations that can be manipulated, transported, compared, and interpreted. Based on an ethnographic study, this paper examines the particular corporeal constellations produced by forensic experts and genetic technologies. Considering criminal cases where biological samples are too small or too complex for conventional DNA analysis, we explore how the (criminal) body/bodies is/are made legible. By taking the technoscientific manipulation of artefacts and the interrelations between experience, credentialed knowledge and controversial methodologies, we analyse how knowledge and social order are co-produced and performed through the connections between parts of the body and the crime scene.

The process of turning the (criminal) body readable and knowable is a relational activity that can be approached through two bodies of inquiry: the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) and sociological theories of the micro‚ĀĄmacro and agency/structure links. The materialization of the body in forensic genetics involves a network of technical-scientific artefacts (e.g. protocols; guidelines; visual representations of DNA sequences; and software tools), through which humans actors and non-humans actors play a role in how error/uncertainty is conceived, circulated and made (in)visible. At the same time, these micro social relations relate to macro level structures connected to legitimation of science and dominant conceptions of reliable evidence in the criminal justice context. The ways forensic genetic technoscience makes the body embedded with multiple authorities, hybrid epistemologies and fractured ontologies pose a particularly vivid analytical challenge.

Panel T111
Body, Science and Expertise