On the persistence of race: Unique skulls and average tissue depths in the practice of forensic craniofacial depiction

AHP readers may be interested in a new open access piece in Social Studies of Science: “On the persistence of race: Unique skulls and average tissue depths in the practice of forensic craniofacial depiction,” by Lisette Jong. Abstract:

The (re-)surfacing of race in forensic practices has received plenty of attention from STS scholars, especially in connection with modern forensic genetic technologies. In this article, I describe the making of facial depictions based on the skulls of unknown deceased individuals. Based on ethnographic research in the field of craniofacial identification and forensic art, I present a material-semiotic analysis of how race comes to matter in the face-making process. The analysis sheds light on how race as a translation device enables oscillation between the individual skull and population data, and allows for slippage between categories that otherwise do not neatly map on to one another. The subsuming logic of race is ingrained – in that it sits at the bases of standard choices and tools – in methods and technologies. However, the skull does not easily let itself be reduced to a racial type. Moreover, the careful efforts of practitioners to articulate the individual characteristics of each skull provide clues for how similarities and differences can be done without the effect of producing race. Such methods value the skull itself as an object of interest, rather than treat it as a vehicle for practicing race science. I argue that efforts to undo the persistence of race in forensic anthropology should focus critical attention on the socio-material configuration of methods and technologies, including data practices and reference standards.

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.

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