The (De)materialization of Criminal Bodies in Forensic DNA Phenotyping

Body and Society 27 (1):60-84 (2021)
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Abstract

Forensic DNA phenotyping is a genetic technology that might be used in criminal investigations. Based on DNA samples of the human body found at crime scenes, it allows to infer externally visible characteristics (such as eye, hair and skin colour) and continental-based biogeographical ancestry. By indicating the probable visible appearance of a criminal suspect, forensic DNA phenotyping allows to narrow down the focus of a criminal investigation. In this article, drawing on interviews with forensic geneticists, we explore how their narratives translate contemporary focus on criminal molecularized bodies. We propose the concept of (de)materialization to approach three aspects of the forensic geneticists’ views. The first regards considering bodies as mutable entities. The second relates to socially contingent meanings attributed to bodies. The third regards to controversies surrounding data reliability. By reflecting upon the (de)materialization of criminal bodies, forensic geneticists juxtapose the defence and unsettling of forensic DNA phenotyping claims.

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