Contemporary Concerns and Considerations in Forensic Anthropology

A special issue of Humans (ISSN 2673-9461).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 November 2023) | Viewed by 29400

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures, Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS 39762, USA
Interests: forensic anthropology; skeletal biology; bone histomorphometrics; functional anatomy and morphology; diversity and inclusion
Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL 61801, USA
Interests: forensic anthropology; human growth and development; modern human variation; quantitative genetics; diversity and inclusion

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Guest Editor
Department of Pathology, Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, Kalamazoo, MI 49007, USA
Interests: foresic anthropology; diversity and inclusion; bone growth; modern casework practices

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

For this Special Issue of Humans, we are issuing a call for research articles, review articles, communications, and commentaries focusing on novel approaches and insights addressing the contemporary issues facing forensic anthropologists today. We are seeking cross-disciplinary investigations of the importance of broadening the definition and scope of forensic anthropology, particularly in terms of activism, advocacy, and social issues. This Special Issue will go beyond examining methodology to address how this field can operate in a holistic context with a four-field approach, addressing questions such as: who gets to be a forensic anthropologist and what is their purpose in today’s medicolegal system?

This Special Issue aims to cover a variety of topics related to forensic anthropology. Areas we are looking to cover include, but are not limited to: missing and unidentified persons cases, social inequality, LGBTQIA2S+ issues, migration, criminal justice reform, advocacy, and more. We look forward to developing an issue that will benefit the field and provide greater awareness to forensic and humanitarian issues facing practitioners, law enforcement, and the global community.

Dr. Jesse R. Goliath
Dr. An-Di Yim
Dr. Jessica K. Juarez
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Humans is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • forensic anthropology
  • medicolegal system
  • ethics
  • LGBTQIA2S+
  • advocacy
  • repatriation
  • decolonization
  • missing and unidentified persons
  • migration
  • anti-racism
  • structural violence
  • undocumented persons
  • diversity and inclusion
  • border crossing
  • activism
  • civil rights
  • criminal justice reform
  • human rights violation
  • social inequality
  • pedagogy

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Research

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25 pages, 402 KiB  
Article
Speaking Truth to Power: Toward a Forensic Anthropology of Advocacy and Activism
by Donovan M. Adams, Juliette R. Bedard, Samantha H. Blatt, Eman Faisal, Jesse R. Goliath, Grace Gregory-Alcock, Ariel Gruenthal-Rankin, Patricia N. Morales Lorenzo, Ashley C. Smith, Sean D. Tallman, Rylan Tegtmeyer Hawke and Hannah Whitelaw
Humans 2024, 4(1), 66-90; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans4010005 - 14 Feb 2024
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1931
Abstract
Over the years, the field of forensic anthropology has become more diverse, bringing unique perspectives to a previously homogeneous field. This diversification has been accompanied by recognizing the need for advocacy and activism in an effort to support the communities we serve: marginalized [...] Read more.
Over the years, the field of forensic anthropology has become more diverse, bringing unique perspectives to a previously homogeneous field. This diversification has been accompanied by recognizing the need for advocacy and activism in an effort to support the communities we serve: marginalized communities that are often overrepresented in the forensic population. As such, forensic anthropologists see the downstream effects of colonialism, white supremacy, inequitable policies, racism, poverty, homophobia, transphobia, gun violence, and misogyny. Some argue that advocacy and activism have no place in forensic anthropological praxis. The counterarguments for engaging in advocacy and activism uphold white, heterosexual, cisgender, and ableist privilege by arguing that perceived objectivity and unbiased perspectives are more important than personally biasing experiences and positionality that supposedly jeopardize the science and expert testimony. Advocacy and activism, however, are not new to the practice of anthropology. Whether through sociocultural anthropology, archaeology, or other areas of biological anthropology, activism and advocacy play an important role, using both the scientific method and community engagement. Using a North American approach, we detail the scope of the issues, address how advocacy and activism are perceived in the wider discipline of anthropology, and define ways in which advocacy and activism can be utilized more broadly in the areas of casework, research, and education. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Contemporary Concerns and Considerations in Forensic Anthropology)
24 pages, 380 KiB  
Article
Shifting the Forensic Anthropological Paradigm to Incorporate the Transgender and Gender Diverse Community
by Donovan M. Adams, Samantha H. Blatt, Taylor M. Flaherty, Jaxson D. Haug, Mariyam I. Isa, Amy R. Michael and Ashley C. Smith
Humans 2023, 3(3), 142-165; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans3030013 - 28 Jun 2023
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 4164
Abstract
Forensic anthropology and, more broadly, the forensic sciences have only recently begun to acknowledge the importance of lived gender identity in the resolution of forensic cases, the epidemic of anti-transgender violence, and the need to seek practical solutions. The current literature suggests that [...] Read more.
Forensic anthropology and, more broadly, the forensic sciences have only recently begun to acknowledge the importance of lived gender identity in the resolution of forensic cases, the epidemic of anti-transgender violence, and the need to seek practical solutions. The current literature suggests that forensic anthropologists are becoming aware of these issues and are working toward efforts to improve identification of transgender and gender diverse (TGD) persons. The scope of the problem, however, is not limited to methodology and instead can be traced to systemic anti-trans stigma ingrained within our cultural institutions. As such, we call on forensic anthropologists to counteract cisgenderism and transphobia and promote gender equity and inclusion in their practice. In this paper, we identify three areas in which forensic anthropologists may be positioned to intervene on cisgenderist practices and systems: in casework, research, and education. This paper aims to provide strategies for forensic anthropologists to improve resolution of TGD cases, produce more nuanced, gender-informed research, and promote gender equity and inclusion in the field. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Contemporary Concerns and Considerations in Forensic Anthropology)

Review

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20 pages, 330 KiB  
Review
Necropolitics and Trans Identities: Language Use as Structural Violence
by Kinsey B. Stewart and Thomas A. Delgado
Humans 2023, 3(2), 106-125; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans3020010 - 24 May 2023
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2932
Abstract
Despite the increasing visibility of transgender and gender diverse (TGD) people in U.S. society, current linguistic practices within forensic anthropology and death investigation in general are not TGD-inclusive. This lack of consideration for TGD decedents can cause unnecessary delays in the identification and [...] Read more.
Despite the increasing visibility of transgender and gender diverse (TGD) people in U.S. society, current linguistic practices within forensic anthropology and death investigation in general are not TGD-inclusive. This lack of consideration for TGD decedents can cause unnecessary delays in the identification and disposition of their remains; moreover, failing to recognize their true identities is a form of forced post-mortem detransition. Using De León’s concept of necroviolence as a framework, we argue that language can also harm the dead and that the (mis)use of language within medicolegal death investigation reflects and reinforces structural violence against TGD people. Examples drawn from a qualitative review of public details for 87 cases are used to demonstrate how language and language-enforced bureaucratic structures can harm TGD decedents, their loved ones, the broader TGD community, and the process of medicolegal death resolution itself. We then suggest steps that anthropologists, death investigators, and their affiliated partners can take to reduce the systemic necropolitical violence faced by the TGD community. While TGD-inclusive methods will take time to implement at the institutional level, individual practitioners can enact significant change within the system by upholding core standards that recognize and respect the personhood and lived experiences of TGD decedents. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Contemporary Concerns and Considerations in Forensic Anthropology)
24 pages, 402 KiB  
Review
Publicly Underrepresented Genocides of the 20th and 21st Century: A Review
by Larra M. Diboyan and Jesse R. Goliath
Humans 2023, 3(2), 82-105; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans3020009 - 16 May 2023
Viewed by 4562
Abstract
Forensic anthropologists have been involved in investigating genocide and crimes against humanity for many decades. Raphael Lempkin first coined the term “genocide” in 1944, and in 1946, the United Nations General Assembly codified it as an independent crime. However, there has not been [...] Read more.
Forensic anthropologists have been involved in investigating genocide and crimes against humanity for many decades. Raphael Lempkin first coined the term “genocide” in 1944, and in 1946, the United Nations General Assembly codified it as an independent crime. However, there has not been a systematic review available to better understand the history of many of these atrocities. Moreover, many of these events have not been discussed outside the cultures and individuals affected. This targeted literature review will discuss work on historic, lesser-known, modern genocides, and finally, the humanitarian forensic work being conducted in the field and digitally. Such events discussed include Herero and Namaqua, Sayfo, Armenian, Holodomor, Nanking (Nanjing), Romani, Palestinian, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Sikh, and Rohingya genocides. Work being done in this important sector of research is a critical development for not only recognizing these crimes but also for documenting and protecting the evidence of these human rights violations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Contemporary Concerns and Considerations in Forensic Anthropology)

Other

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20 pages, 365 KiB  
Essay
Speaking of Sex: Critical Reflections for Forensic Anthropologists
by Taylor M. Flaherty, Liam J. Johnson, Katharine C. Woollen, Dayanira Lopez, Katherine Gaddis, SaMoura L. Horsley and Jennifer F. Byrnes
Humans 2023, 3(4), 251-270; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans3040020 - 18 Oct 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3297
Abstract
Forensic anthropologists have a responsibility to appropriately relay information about a decedent in medicolegal reports and when communicating with the public. The terms ‘sex’ and ‘sex estimation’ have been applied with numerous, inconsistent definitions under the guise that sex—a broad, complex concept—can be [...] Read more.
Forensic anthropologists have a responsibility to appropriately relay information about a decedent in medicolegal reports and when communicating with the public. The terms ‘sex’ and ‘sex estimation’ have been applied with numerous, inconsistent definitions under the guise that sex—a broad, complex concept—can be reduced to a female/male binary. This binary does not reflect biocultural realities and harms those whose bodies do not meet social expectations of maleness or femaleness. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Forensic Anthropology and Bioarchaeology Laboratory (UNLV FAB Lab) advocates for the use of the term ‘assigned sex at birth’ (ASAB) to highlight that binary sex is not biologically inherent to the body, but rather, assigned by society. Additionally, we call for the use of disclaimers in case reports to denote the limitations of ASAB estimation methods, the differentiation between those with mixed trait expression (i.e., indeterminate) and those on whom an ASAB analysis cannot be performed (i.e., unknown), and the included consideration of gender in forensic anthropology research and case reports. Such applications challenge biological normalcy, allowing forensic anthropologists to actively advocate for those whose bodies do not meet biocultural expectations. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Contemporary Concerns and Considerations in Forensic Anthropology)
16 pages, 2147 KiB  
Systematic Review
A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Race in the Criminal Justice System with Respect to Forensic Science Decision Making: Implications for Forensic Anthropology
by An-Di Yim and Nicholas V. Passalacqua
Humans 2023, 3(3), 203-218; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans3030017 - 25 Aug 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3052
Abstract
Instances of racial disparities are well documented in the United States’ criminal justice system. This study reviewed the literature and conducted quantitative analyses on the role of race in forensic decision making among practitioners and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system. We [...] Read more.
Instances of racial disparities are well documented in the United States’ criminal justice system. This study reviewed the literature and conducted quantitative analyses on the role of race in forensic decision making among practitioners and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system. We hypothesized that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals will be significantly more likely to be associated with adverse outcomes than White individuals. A search strategy was developed and registered before the study commenced. Quantitative data were extracted from eligible studies to estimate the pooled effect size (odds ratio) for the effects of race. A final sample of 11 data sources (published study or dataset) was identified. Decision making by all stakeholders in the criminal justice system, including forensic practitioners, case investigators, and juries were evaluated in these studies. Two datasets evaluated the decision-making process involving forensic psychology or psychiatry, three focused on forensic evidence, four on forensic pathology, one involved forensic anthropology cases, and one involved clinical forensic medicine cases. The pooled odds ratio was estimated to be 1.10 (95% confidence interval: 0.67–1.81), indicating a trivial or negligible effect of race (i.e., BIPOC individuals were no more likely to be associated with adverse outcomes given the current evidence). Importantly, the results of this study do not indicate that bias or disparity related to race does not exist in forensic decision making in the criminal justice system. More research into systemic bias in forensic decision making, especially in relation to race, is needed. Forensic anthropologists are uniquely positioned to study and address racial disparities in the criminal justice system involving forensic science because of its interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary nature. This study highlights the need for further research and advocates for forensic anthropologists to be more involved in the study of the science and the impacts of forensic science rather than focusing on methodological advancement. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Contemporary Concerns and Considerations in Forensic Anthropology)
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11 pages, 278 KiB  
Essay
The Missing and the Marginalized: A Biocultural Approach to Forensic Anthropology at the US/Mexico Border
by Elise J. Adams and Jesse R. Goliath
Humans 2023, 3(3), 166-176; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans3030014 - 7 Jul 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2040
Abstract
Violence and trauma are nestled in human rights violations worldwide. Since the 1980s, several international and domestic organizations have formed to conduct investigations following instances of political unrest and sociocultural violence. These inhumane events are evidenced by structural violence, an invisible trauma that [...] Read more.
Violence and trauma are nestled in human rights violations worldwide. Since the 1980s, several international and domestic organizations have formed to conduct investigations following instances of political unrest and sociocultural violence. These inhumane events are evidenced by structural violence, an invisible trauma that exacerbates societal discrepancies within a population and can manifest harm to marginalized groups. Structural violence can be observed in both living individuals and through the treatment of human remains. Individuals who are missing or remain unidentified from violent outbreaks are often from marginalized groups. Therefore, a biocultural approach is necessary as it emphasizes the interplay between biology, environment, and culture. Recent work on human rights violations in the Americas has focused on fatalities due to increased migration at the US/Mexico border. Multiple organizations from the United States and other countries have developed strategies to assist in the recovery, identification, and repatriation of migrants. We aim to highlight the biocultural approach in these humanitarian actions, especially the practice of forensic anthropology, with structural violence and humanitarian identification efforts related to the missing and unidentified persons found along the US/Mexico border. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Contemporary Concerns and Considerations in Forensic Anthropology)
11 pages, 274 KiB  
Essay
Vulnerabilities for Marginalized Groups in the United States Forensic Anthropology Education System: Paths to Engagement and Belonging
by Jesse R. Goliath, Erin B. Waxenbaum and Taylor S. Borgelt
Humans 2023, 3(2), 126-136; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans3020011 - 2 Jun 2023
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2380
Abstract
Implicit and explicit barriers to building a culture of belonging persist in U.S. forensic anthropology. These barriers create and exacerbate vulnerabilities, especially among marginalized groups, that need to be addressed. The lack of diversity in U.S. forensic anthropology is well documented. At the [...] Read more.
Implicit and explicit barriers to building a culture of belonging persist in U.S. forensic anthropology. These barriers create and exacerbate vulnerabilities, especially among marginalized groups, that need to be addressed. The lack of diversity in U.S. forensic anthropology is well documented. At the same time, there has been a significant upswing in academic programs focusing on forensic anthropology at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. However, to be successful and promote retention, these programs must address the pervasive structural barriers that continue to impede diversity. Major impediments include the hierarchical structure, illusion of objectivity, racial and cis-gender-biased methodologies, and belonging uncertainty. At all levels, peer engagement and active, constructive mentorship may both semantically and structurally allow for a bridge between the past and the future. Pedagogy and professional practices in forensic anthropology must be modernized and restructured to promote learning environments that foster belonging and engagement. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Contemporary Concerns and Considerations in Forensic Anthropology)
18 pages, 310 KiB  
Essay
Behind the Velvet Rope: Exclusivity and Accessibility in Biological Anthropology
by Rylan Tegtmeyer Hawke and Cortney N. Hulse
Humans 2023, 3(2), 64-81; https://doi.org/10.3390/humans3020008 - 6 May 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2775
Abstract
Despite a growing focus on diversity initiatives in the field of anthropology, accessibility to advancement is growing further out of reach for many students and early career professionals. There has been a noticeable uptick in the cost of organization membership fees, the culmination [...] Read more.
Despite a growing focus on diversity initiatives in the field of anthropology, accessibility to advancement is growing further out of reach for many students and early career professionals. There has been a noticeable uptick in the cost of organization membership fees, the culmination of conference costs, and the cost of certifications. This stands in contrast to an increase in the number of lower-paid adjunct positions taking the place of associate and assistant professorships and the lack of permanent applied positions. For graduating and early career anthropologists, the prospect of thriving in a field that is becoming increasingly costly seems daunting. This paper will examine growing economic exclusivity within biological anthropology and suggest possible solutions to make the field more widely accessible. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Contemporary Concerns and Considerations in Forensic Anthropology)
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