Accepted Paper:

Interdisciplinary research in law and forensic science: from 'silos' to systems.  


Karen Richmond (University of Dundee / European Graduate School)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers the limitations of subsisting theoreties, which characterize the tensions between law and science as a negotiation between contesting fields. Drawing on empirical research into DNA profiling, this paper proposes an alternate, autopoietic model of interdisciplinary co-production.

Paper long abstract:

Previous commentators have tended to view law and forensic science as operating in discrete silos. The research paradigm has therefore tended to concentrate on the negotiations between the two professions, the allocation of epistemic responsibility, the performance of 'boundary work', or the temporary creation of 'hybrid sets'. Lawless and Williams, for example, are typical in positing that the legal and forensic fields 'combine in a mutually constitutive relationship to (in)form a mode of production of scientific commodities purchased by the police in support of criminal justice objectives.'

These approaches tend to be founded on a belief that improved communication, and a shared understanding of the respective capabilities, and needs, of both forensic science and criminal justice, may enhance the co-production of knowledge. However, the results of empirical research into the UK's streamlined forensic reporting scheme appear to confound this 'contest and communication' narrative. SFR signals an almost complete co-option of scientific processes by the criminal justice system, the concomitant loss of interpretative forensic expertise, and the avoidance of the allocation of epistemic responsibility. It is argued that this instrumental approach to forensic reporting is a result of the disruption, and restructuring, of the forensic profession. Further, that the application of legal norms and rationality to forensic science may be better understood through the lens of legal autopoiesis, and the structural coupling of competing subsystems. The presentation closes by considering the implications across other areas of STS research.

Panel C11
Scientific meetings across disciplinary boundaries