"I know ancestry is complicated, but should I not help if I can?" - The dilemma of the (forensic) anthropologist
(University College Freiburg)
Paper short abstract:
Many anthropologists use ancestry estimation with positive outcomes, although they know about all troubles with the concept. How can one deal with this logical contradiction, both in research as well as in one's own work?
Paper long abstract:
Many practitioners of forensic anthropology work with ancestry categories such as European, African, Asian, or Austro-Melanesian. They understand this classification as biogeographical, not as racial. Nevertheless, the history of these categories is rooted in 19th century racial science and the defining cranial markers and characteristics have changed very little since. However, ancestry estimation is often used with positive outcomes, namely in the identification of unidentified bodies - not as the final or unquestionable result, but as a starting point to help browse missing person's databases, which later becomes confirmed or rejected by DNA testing. During fieldwork among anthropologists, one of the most frequent questions I was confronted with was: "I know race is a social construct, ancestry is a very complicated category, but sometimes it works, and do I not have the responsibility to help with identification if I can in those instances?" In a provenance research project on a collection of skulls set aside for repatriation, we had to deal with similar questions: Should we use techniques of ancestry estimation to make sure individuals had actually come from New Zealand - despite all the troubles with the concept? In my paper I would like to discuss these questions with colleagues and share experiences from other, but maybe relatable areas. How can one research this troublesome field? Is it possible to write about it in a way that is fair to all people involved, following all ethical considerations, showing "the elephant"?
Sorting, typing, classifying: the elephants in 'our' rooms [Anthropology of Race and Ethnicity Network; Medical Anthropology Network] [Roundtable]