In television series like CSI and Criminal Minds forensic scientists can solve even the trickiest cases within a few hours. Technologies such as blood-spatter analysis, DNA and autopsies aid in reconstructing the crime and psychiatric classifications like ‘psychopath’ help to identify the perpetrator. Science and technology’s impartial and unambiguous results seem to ensure that justice is done equally for everyone. In reality, however, the role and impact of forensic science depend on where the court is located.
Scholars have attributed this regional variance to either the availability of technology or the different legal systems. These explanations have not been backed up by empirical or comparative research and do not sufficiently explain why scientific experts are powerful in some national courtrooms, but dismissed in others.
Moreover, they neglect a third, vital factor: culture. This project will demonstrate the cultural influences that determine how forensic science was accepted in Europe (1930-2000) by focusing on historically and nationally variable political ideology, media representations and norms on gender and sexuality. The project’s hypothesis is that cultural ideas and practices have been major determinants in the position of science in the courtroom. To test this, I will use criminal cases in which gender plays an important role: rape, murder and infanticide. Because these often play out in the media as well as the courtroom, they can best unveil the power of culture. The forensic practices of four countries with differing legal systems and ideologies will be compared (the Netherlands, England, Spain and Russia). FORCe will analyse the entangled relationships between forensic science, medicine and psychiatry, using an innovative comparative cultural-historical approach. The results will explain how scientific expertise works in practice and impacts the administration of justice.
Fields of science
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