The face as folded object: Race and the problems with ‘progress’ in forensic DNA phenotyping

AHP readers may be interested in a new open-access article in Social Studies of Science: “The face as folded object: Race and the problems with ‘progress’ in forensic DNA phenotyping,” by Roos Hopman. Abstract:

Forensic DNA phenotyping (FDP) encompasses a set of technologies aimed at predicting phenotypic characteristics from genotypes. Advocates of FDP present it as the future of forensics, with an ultimate goal of producing complete, individualised facial composites based on DNA. With a focus on individuals and promised advances in technology comes the assumption that modern methods are steadily moving away from racial science. Yet in the quantification of physical differences, FDP builds upon some nineteenth- and twentieth-century scientific practices that measured and categorised human variation in terms of race. In this article I complicate the linear temporal approach to scientific progress by building on the notion of the folded object. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in various genetic laboratories, I show how nineteenth- and early twentieth-century anthropological measuring and data-collection practices and statistical averaging techniques are folded into the ordering of measurements of skin color data taken with a spectrophotometer, the analysis of facial shape based on computational landmarks and the collection of iris photographs. Attending to the historicity of FDP facial renderings, I bring into focus how race comes about as a consequence of temporal folds.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.