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CA-DS Research Seminar: ‘Face as a visual device: Notes on race and sameness in forensic identification’

  • Amade M’charek
Monday 26 September 2016
Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden

Professor Amade M’charek (University of Amsterdam, Anthropology of Health, Care and the Body) explores the production of sameness and its relation to race by attending to the bioligisation of the phenotype in forensic identification.

Credit: Shriver & Claes/Penn State

It has widely been observed that while the human genome speaks to the communality in the genes, the alleged 0,1% of genetic difference has become the prime object of attention in the life sciences. And as these things go, the 0,1% of difference has also caught the attention of an ever-growing scholarship in the social sciences and the humanities. It has been argued that while genetics is not upfront about racial classifications, its technologies and methods are contributing to the molecularization of difference and the production of race. Race thus dived under the sur-face.

The return of the phenotype

Rather than a molecularisation, a zooming-in into the body, we are witnessing a growing interest for the surface of the body. We are witnessing the return of the phenotype. In genetics the phenotype (physical appearance) is increasingly biologised. Drawing on examples from forensic genetics and showing the growing interest in the biology of the phenotype and particularly the biology of the face, Professor M’charek will argue that the giving of a face to an unknown individual (suspect or a victim), the aim of DNA-phenotying technologies, goes hand in hand with the doing of race.  In this the face does not represent an individual, but rather functions as a visual device to generate a collection of individuals.

The production of sameness

Genomic research on human variation and its emphasis on markers of difference contribute to an idea that whereas differences are produced, similarities and sameness are given. Indeed, an emphasis on difference seems to suggest that in the context of race, differences might be political or a negative while similarities are curiously apolitical. The production of sameness, resemblance and equivalence has thus received little attention in critical analyses. Professor M’charek switches from a focus difference to attend to sameness and explore its potential for understanding race.

About Amade M’charek

Amade M'charek

Amade M’charek is Professor of Anthropology of Science at the Department of Anthropology of the University of Amsterdam. M’charek’s research interests are genetic diversity in forensics, forensic anthropology and race. In the project Dutchness in Genes and Genealogy, she has conducted a study into how Dutchness is enacted in collaborations between population geneticists, archaeologists and genealogists. Her most recent research is on face-making and race-making in forensic identification (funded by a five-year ERC consolidator grant) in which she works together with a team of PhDs and post-docs.

In this ethnographic study on race in forensic practice, they examine how technologies of face-making, aimed at the identification of a suspect or a victim, is also involved in race-making. The primary research aim of the RaceFaceID project is to develop methods and theoretical concepts with which to understand the simultaneous presence and absence of race in science and society.

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