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Anthropology Communicates: Sue Black on Forensic Anthropology

March 11 2021 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Anthropology Communicates


Thursday 11 March 2021 at 3:00-05:00pm (GMT)

Forensic anthropology – no longer a cowboy!

Prof Dame Sue Black (President of the RAI and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Engagement at Lancaster University)

chaired by Dr Emma Crewe (SOAS)

This event will be held on Zoom. To register please go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZwtduygqTojGtZpBVQifdkV63zZiQbGWJDn  

Image: Morgan SilkWired © The Conde Nast Publications Ltd

A policy is a proposed, or adopted, course of action. It is no surprise therefore that much of our personal and working lives are influenced by policies and those who make them. These become the ‘code’ by which we operate and we refer to them when we need to take a ‘soundcheck’ on our actions or evaluate a chosen direction of travel. Forensic anthropology emerged from the disciplines of anatomy and biological anthropology largely in response to a specific medico-legal conundrum. In the UK, this can be traced back at least to the Buck Ruxton murder of 1936 in Lancaster. For the next half century, there were sporadic requests for experts to translate their academic learnings into probative medico-legal opinion to assist the jury, as triers of fact, to pronounce on the guilt of an accused. However, the ensuing high media profiles of such involvement, successes that led to greater investigative demand for their services and the insatiable public appetite for science in the courtroom, led to a proliferation of higher education courses in the subject, that worked to no common policy. Practitioners, experts for the court, were being trained against no common guidance and to no appreciable standard of practise. Forensic anthropology in the UK had morphed organically into a largely quasi-professional discipline of increasingly prominent public, government and legal profile. It was therefore necessary for the discipline to turn its focus to professionalisation and policies that would bring conformity and rigour. There are many actors in this piece and this presentation will consider the involvement of the main protagonists – practising forensic anthropologists, higher education establishments who train the upcoming experts, national scientific academies, commercial forensic employers, the discipline’s governing body (the RAI), Government departments and the Home Office Forensic Science Regulator. It is a complex story but one which may provide a useful template for other subjects that may be transitioning into professional practising standards.


This series of monthly webinars is an opportunity to promote anthropology’s unique contribution to understanding policy-making and advocacy and to consider how, what, where and when anthropology should communicate. The aim of the series is to encourage anthropologists to engage with different audiences, settings and contexts and, in doing so, to influence policy-makers and practice.

Future events of the Anthropology Communicates – webinar series:

8th April, 3-5pm: Alex Clegg on Civil Society

Spring 2021: further Anthropology Communicates webinars to be confirmed.



March 11 2021
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Event Category: