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Who knows who we are? Questioning DNA analysis in disaster victim identification

Bennett, Caroline (2014) Who knows who we are? Questioning DNA analysis in disaster victim identification. New Genetics and Society, 33 (3). pp. 239-256. ISSN 1463-6778. (doi:10.1080/14636778.2014.946003) (KAR id:43039)


The use of DNA analysis as a mode of identification of disaster victims has become increasingly predominant to other, traditional, methods of identification in recent years. Scientific advances of the technological processes, high-profile use in identification efforts across the globe (such as after 9/11 or in the Asian Tsunami of 2004), and its inclusion in popular media, have led to its popular adoption as one of the primary modes of identification in disaster scenarios, and to the expectation of its use in all cases by the lay public and media. It is increasingly argued to be integral to post-disaster management. However, depending on the circumstances, location, and type of disaster, this technology may not be appropriate, and its use may instead conflict with socio-political and cultural norms and structures of power. Using examples primarily from Cambodia and Iraq this article will explore what these conflicts may be, and in doing so, question the expanding assumption that DNA analysis is a universally appropriate intervention in disaster victim identification. It will argue instead that its use may be a result of a desire for the political and social capital that this highly prestigious technological intervention offers rather than a solely humanitarian intervention on behalf of survivors and the dead.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/14636778.2014.946003
Uncontrolled keywords: disaster, identification, DNA, victim
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA1001 Forensic medicine. Medical jurisprudence. Legal medicine
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council (
Depositing User: C. Bennett
Date Deposited: 22 Sep 2014 12:27 UTC
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2022 10:40 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Bennett, Caroline.

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