Forensic Technologies and the Tracing of Identities

  1. 1. Joy Palmer

    MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online - Michigan State University

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In the vastly popular narratives surrounding forensic science and criminalistics, especially, the fractures elements taken up in these discourses have become familiar pop-icons-fingerprints, hair fibers, semen, DNA samples-all now have a potent currency in a cultural epoch we could characterize by its fetishization of the easily accessible fact and technological exactitude. The elevation of the technologies that "trace" human identity, this speaker argues, stems from a spiraling cultural fascination and growing anxiety over the truth status of the anatomical, traceable, and irreducibly material human body. The most significant characteristic of the narratives surrounding the technologies of the trace is the manner in which they conflate the notion of "individuation"-the forensic method the fragment of evidence is traced back to its originary source-with individuality or humanist notions of essence. As the body emerges as a discrete object of knowledge, it simultaneously dis-integrates into multiple realms of codification, leveled out and gridded into the networked computer database. The ever-increasing glut of narratives that fixate upon DNA, autopsy, trace evidence, imaging technologies and the status of the material body within technological culture, attests to these anxieties over the cultural status of the body as both severed sign, and substantive essence. This speaker will consider how the literal "matter" of the body has come to gain such critical potency within the interdisciplinary discourses of the humanities and social sciences. Within contemporary rhetoric surrounding digital technology, especially, the body has come to function culturally as a boundary concept between the human and the technological, becoming an ideological battleground for competing systems of meaning. Looking specifically at the technologies used to digitally represent the human body in forensics, biometrics and medicine, this presentation addresses the manner in which cultural representations of the body address and attempt to ideologically manage an inherently contradictory knowledge whereby technologies that collapse the body into an infinite series of abstract arts do so in the very name of reclaiming and reintegrating an originary, human identity. The continuous development of visualization techniques contributes to an escalating sense that we have come to "know" our bodies, and those of others, in progressively more complicated and contingent ways. As technology takes imaging to increasingly microscopic levels, these fragmented body parts are all taken up as elements in the construction of cultural identity.

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at New York University

New York, NY, United States

July 13, 2001 - July 16, 2001

94 works by 167 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ICCH (21), ALLC/EADH (28), ACH/ALLC (13)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC