Placing the body (or not) in the field of citizen-led forensics in Mexico

My research is about the role of forensic genetic technologies in emerging processes of grass-roots organization in the search for and identification of missing persons in Mexico. For the past four years, I have been researching these processes of civil society organization, focusing particularly on the collection of citizen DNA samples and the civilian search for clandestine graves, practices carried out mostly by activist mothers throughout the country. During this time, I have faced difficulties in gaining "access" to the relatives of disappeared persons and "observing firsthand" their practices. This is because of two main reasons: one, there is risk involved in accompanying mothers in their efforts to search and locate clandestine graves in the midst of an ongoing violent conflict (a risk not sanctioned by University protocols). And two, the families themselves consistently question the role of the academy and the ways we intervene (or not) in this context of structural violence, inaction, state collusion, and abandonment of families and their disappeared relatives. 

This impossibility of accessing the "field" has functioned as an interruption of my own practice, short-circuiting the notions of "science", "technology" and "activism", "observation", "field", "subject/object of study", of “accompaniment" and, very particularly, of "listening". Moreover, this interruption is responsible in my case for contaminating the limits established between the academic, the personal and the political, forcing me to make explicit the implications of "placing the body" or not when we do what we call "field work". This will imply the task of rethinking, perhaps in a fundamental way, the intricate and unequal relationships that are established from academic work with "the other", the role of my presence/absence in the field, as well as with other forms of affective and political work. In this sense, I ask myself: Is it possible, given this interruption, to deploy other more critical, creative and ethically responsible modes of STS "intervention" in the context of violence and forensic auto-organization in Mexico? What could feminist and decolonial STS contribute to this effort? I pose these questions in the hope that this interruption may open a site of articulation of a feminist praxis of listening, care and situated epistemic exchange with and throughout the body (Haraway, 1988).

 

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Created date

August 8, 2019

Cite as

María Torres Martínez. 8 August 2019, "Placing the body (or not) in the field of citizen-led forensics in Mexico", STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 2 September 2019, accessed 21 January 2022.