Race Matter: On the Absent Presence of Race in Forensic IdentificationM'charek, Amade
The core aim of the RaceFaceID project is to develop theoretical and methodological tools for studying race-in-practice, and to advance our knowledge about the ways race is enacted through, and materializes in technologies. It thus aims at advancing our understanding of the materiality of race in practice. Not by reducing race to biology or the body, but by tracing ethnographically how race is configured as specific relations between the biological, the social and the technical.
In this subproject we contrast the different empirical cases of the RaceFaceID project and attend closely to the technologically mediates relation between the individual and the population and how this relation keeps changing and shifting. Our aim is to understand the absent present-ness, or the flickering nature of race. Attending to such specificities, so we contend, will help us to learn more about the political aspects of race, i.e. why and how race is at times highly politicized, to gain a kind of matter of fact-ness at others.
Doing the individual and the population in the identification of drowned peopleM'charek, Amade
One of the troubling aspects of studying race head-on is the constant risk of reifying it, as if it is a self-evident phenomenon out there. This is the reason why we do not define race ourselves, but rather attend to the relation between the individual and the population. Yet, the context of forensics, crime and intense emotions constitute an on-going risk of seeing race everywhere. As a kind of ‘triangulation’ and to better understand the politics of race, in a small number of cases, we decided to follow forensic technologies as well as the relation between the individual and the population outside the forensic field proper.
This subproject thus shifts to a humanitarian setting and the context of the refugee crisis to study the ir/relevance of race. It studies the management of bodies and possible identification of drowned migrants whereby a broad range of forensic technologies can be mobilised to identify them.
Facing the unknown suspect: An inquiry into ‘the face’ generated through Forensic DNA PhenotypingHopman, Roos
Forensic DNA phenotyping is one of the three forensic technologies studied in the RaceFaceID project. In criminal cases that have hit an impasse, it can be used to predict a suspect’s physical appearance, with characteristics such as eye, hair and skin color inferred from particular parts of the DNA to generate the suspect’s face. My research investigates how technologies mediate the creation of “the suspect” and the ways in which race comes to figure in this process. Building on theories proposed within science and technology studies, I examine the versions of race created through the practices of forensic DNA phenotyping and ethnographically study the moments when race rises to the surface and when it disappears again.
My research is guided by four concerns that all relate back to “the face” in forensic technologies. These include the coming into being of the face through movements between parts and wholes, the infrastructure behind the face, the face as landscape, and the affect generated when the face leaves laboratory settings. These concerns are studied ethnographically through site visits to laboratories in Linkoping, Leuven and The Hague, DNA databanks in several European countries, and through study of the media—thereby following the face as its infrastructure is established, as it is created and then disseminated, and how race becomes present/absent in the process.
Facializing the skull – An ethnographic inquiry into forensic craniofacial reconstructionJong, Lisette
One of the face-making practices studied in the RaceFaceID project, forensic craniofacial reconstruction involves the construction of a face based on the skull of an unknown deceased individual. My research investigates how race figures in the emergence of faces within the practices of forensic craniofacial reconstruction. Building on insights from the study of science, technology and society, I approach the emergence of the face as situated material-semiotic practice, and race as an inherently indeterminate object that takes shape within these practices. My ethnographic study is guided by four concerns that speak to the absent presence of race in forensic craniofacial identification: the relation between the individual and population, the issue of race in forensic and physical anthropology, aesthetics, and accuracy. Starting from forensic cases in the Netherlands, my strategy of following the object of research takes me to the Dutch and international police, the Netherlands Forensic Institute, laboratories and forensic artists in the UK, and the media—a multi-sited ethnography that attends to how knowledge about the unknown individual is produced and translated as it moves between different sites and if, when and how race becomes ir/relevant in the process.
Facing race in forensic art: Face-making practices and race in facial composite sketching in the NetherlandsBleumink Pallo, Ryanne
Forensic investigation practices have been at the center of attention of criminal justice systems for the past decade. Technological developments such as the use of DNA have made it possible to, for example, revisit old cases and prove the conviction of innocent persons. As these individuals were convicted on the basis of other forensic evidence, such findings raise serious questions about the effectiveness and objectivity of forensic (identification) techniques. Accordingly, my research focuses on the relation between forensic identification practices and race in the Netherlands. In order to identify a suspect, forensic identification techniques rely on differences and similarities between individuals and populations. While the use of race(s) as a legitimate way to differentiate between populations seemingly disappeared after the Second World War, in (forensic) practice, race is still made relevant by technology, society and science when describing and interpreting differences and similarities between populations. In describing the “phenotypical other”, race sometimes surfaces explicitly. At other times, racial classifications are made but come with different words and concepts. Sometimes race is not made relevant at all. My ethnographic fieldwork follows the “face-making” practices of a facial composite as it travels through science, technology, law enforcement, the criminal justice system and society. In doing so, I seek to understand how and where race is enacted and made relevant in forensic identification, especially within the practices of making and disseminating facial composites.
Technologies of vision in populations management and governing mobility in RomaniaPlájás, Ildikó Zonga
My research focuses on visual technologies of difference-making in the governance, identification and monitoring of mobility in Romania. As many of the techniques currently in place to manage and control the mobility of people have visual and sensorial dimensions, I employ audio-visual methods, combined with science and technology studies and material semiotics, to interrogate the ways in which “technologies of vision” aimed at identification enact different groups of people as ‘populations of risk’ in and of Europe. As part of my research, I am working on an experimental film that addresses vision, the absent presence of race, and phenotypic otherness in a cinematic language.
Seperation. Identification. Deportation: Making deportable people in Brussels’ Immigration OfficeWissink, Lieke
‘He looks like a Moroccan, just look at the photo!’ Leaning over her desk, she hands the file to the chief of the ‘Maghreb-countries-group’ in the Deportation Unit in Brussels. ‘Shall I start a Moroccan file?’ ‘Based solely on a photo…?’ He glances at the mugshot stapled to the inside of the carton file cover—‘No, that would be premature’—and returns the file. She shrugs. ‘If it was up to me I would do it; the Tunisian authorities say they do not know him.’ She now reads out loud while typing: ‘Given the fact that person involved has always claimed to be from Tunis it is not advisable to start a Moroccan or Algerian file.’ (Field notes, Deportation Unit Brussels, January 2016).
My PhD research asks: How is a deportable person made? For six months I joined the bureaucrats in the Deportation Unit of Belgium’s Immigration Office responsible for the removal of illegalized persons from national territory. The practice of authorities to forcefully (re)move people in their territory identified as a non-belonging population is no new phenomenon. However, since the Second World War, the deportation of populations is considered a crime. Hence, for deportation to fit contemporary legal frameworks, it must be individualized. It is through file work that a member of a to-be-deported population has to be made a deportable individual. However, as brought up in the vignette above, deportations are crucially a nation-state matter based on the management of national populations. This paradox that arises between the deportable individual vs its population is attempted to be solved by the bureaucratic work done in the Deportation Unit.
Bureaucracies being characterized by a careful division of work, individual bureaucrats are limited to specific actions assigned to their position. They are, much like their desks, tied to a location: the next desk is equipped for a different action. It is the file that moves through the numerous steps of the bureaucratic procedure as a whole and weaves together different actions. My research aims to shed light on the (partial) connections between acts and actors — mobilized by the deportation file — that make a deportable subject. Following the social life of the deportation file starting from a persons’ arrest, to identifying its nationality, to actual deportation, three highly intertwined aspects of the daily bureaucratic work in the Deportation Unit will be analyzed: file practice, legal practice, and diplomatic practice. These practices jointly accomplish the making of the deportable person, therewith effectuating deportations of today.
Difference before the Law: forensic knowledges, legal practices, and the making of suspect identitiesOorschot, Irene van
Within the RaceFaceID project, I focus on how differences between individuals and populations come to matter at the intersection of legal modes of truth-telling and scientific and forensic modes of knowledge-making. I am particularly interested in how expert knowledges and common-sense assumptions regarding sameness and difference between individuals and populations are mobilized and contested in legal settings.
At Face Value: Race in Forensic PsychologyHelberg, Alana
Within the RaceFaceID project Alana studies race in scientific research in the fields of forensic and social psychology. Racialized concepts such as "own-race bias" and "cross-race effect" are everyday objects in these fields of psychological research, Alana examines how research practices in this setting enact race. With her study Alana seeks to explore how race is being done in this area of forensic science, and how 'knowledge' about race in relation to eye-witness (facial) recognition is produced through such research.
Facializing the PastStobbe, Jeltsje
Within the RaceFaceID project, together with the PI Amade M’charek, I work on the subproject facializing the past. This subproject entails a study of what happens when DNA leaves the lab and enters public spaces such as museums, archives and city halls. As DNA tends to team up with reproductive familytrees and historical narratives, identity in the public space easily becomes ‘biologized’ as well as ‘regionalized’, in its most striking form it is even 'humanized' and given a face. We label this convergence of biology, identity and regionalism as bionativism, and trace how bionativism is done in practice. Such practices are ethnographically explored by tracing them through four sites of identity-making with DNA: a site of placing, of timing, of eventing, and of facing. This ethnography of bionativist practices will result in a book.
- European Research Council
- Universiteit van Amsterdam
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
This project has received funding from the European Union's
Seventh Framework Programme under grant agreement n° 339123