CfP: Conference ‘Forensic Cultures’

Call for papers Conference ‘Forensic Cultures’  
For online version, please click here

26-28 August 2021 Department of History and Art History, Utrecht University 

In recent years research into the history of forensic science has expanded. In addition to institutional developments and advances in technology, increasingly the entanglements between legal frameworks, forensic institutes, technology and culture have been explored by historians and scholars from other disciplines (e.g. Burney and Hamlin 2019; Watson 2010 and 2020; Adam 2016 and 2020). These entanglements come together in the notion of ‘forensic cultures’, which may be defined as the theory and practice of forensic science, medicine and psychiatry as they come to the fore in specific locations such as the courtroom, the mortuary, textbooks of forensic medicine, psychiatric assessment reports or the media. Moreover, these forensic practices are embedded in cultural contexts and political regimes. Forensic cultures can thus refer to both the representation and the practice of forensics.  This conference invites papers on local, national or transnational forensic cultures based on new empirical research and/or a novel use of theoretical approaches from e.g. Science and Technology Studies, praxiography, new materialism, history of knowledge, cultural theory, critical legal studies, and gender and queer theory. We prefer papers on twentieth-century forensic culture but are open to proposals for papers on other periods. Papers may discuss forensic cultures in any part of the world, or any type of political/ideological system. Themes may include (but are certainly not limited to): 

  • The representation of forensic science, medicine or psychiatry in novels, crime fiction or newspapers 
  • The role of forensic experts in different legal systems 
  • The relationship between political regimes and ideology and the work of forensic experts 
  • The role of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class and (dis)ability in the representation or functioning of forensic science 
  • The influence of forensic experts in cases of rape, murder and infanticide 
  • The role of epistemological notions such as ‘objectivity’ and ‘expertise’ in forensic science  
  • The relationships between experts and their audience (judges, juries, media) 
  • The professionalization and institutionalization of forensic science, medicine and psychiatry 
  • The performance and representation of forensic expertise in different media 
  • The role of forensic technology in social and cultural contexts 
  • Travelling forensic knowledge (exchange of forensic knowledge; adaptation and appropriation of forensic concepts) 
  • The role of psychoanalysis in forensic psychiatry 
  • The representation of ‘star’ forensic scientists (either in (auto)biography or in the media) 
  • Forensic representations (e.g. visualization) of evidence  

If the situation regarding COVID-19 allows it, the conference will be held in person in Utrecht. For a limited number of conference participants, accommodation and travel costs will be reimbursed. For graduate students all costs will be reimbursed (upon acceptance of the abstract). Because we care about the environment, we strongly encourage all participants to travel by train. We are exploring options for video conferencing for speakers from overseas and those who wish to participate from their home institution. If it is not possible to organize the conference in person in Utrecht, it will be organized online.  All invited speakers are requested to send their papers to all participants one month before the start of the conference. A selection of the papers will be published in an open-access edited volume.  

Deadline for abstracts: 1 November 2020 (participants will be notified by January 2021). Abstracts of 300-500 words (including a short bio) can be submitted to Enquiries can be addressed to dr Willemijn Ruberg ( This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 770402). 

Bibliography Adam, Alison, A History of Forensic Science: British Beginnings in the Twentieth Century (2016). Adam, Alison (ed.), Crime and the Construction of Forensic Objectivity from 1850 (2020). Burney, Ian and Chris Hamlin, Global Forensic Cultures. Making Fact and Justice in the Modern Era (2019). Watson, Katherine, Forensic Medicine in Western Society: A History (2010). Watson, Katherine, Medicine and Justice: Medico-legal Practice in England and Wales, 1700-1914 (2020). 

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