An Ethnographic Approach to Researching the Introduction of New Forensic DNA Technologies in Policing in the United Kingdom


Forensic DNA techniques provide essential support in criminal investigations, especially in the case of serious and major crimes where no expenses are spared. However, we know less about their current use and provision in relation to offenses which occur more frequently, such as burglary or theft from a vehicle (also known as “volume crime” in the United Kingdom). There are different ways in which a researcher can begin to address this knowledge gap. The present case study discusses a qualitative methodological perspective that aimed to illuminate the ways in which existing and future forensic capabilities are viewed by the various professionals involved in their adoption and use. In the context of an unsettled forensic landscape, marked by budget cuts to police forces and an increased scrutiny on the effectiveness of forensic resources, understanding how forensic DNA technologies are made sense of by these professionals can help inform their implementation in policing. This case study shows how ethnographic interviews and observations, combined with visual and documentary methods, open to critical scrutiny institutional processes and occupational dynamics that have often been overlooked in current scholarship. It argues that a qualitative perspective focused on organizational narratives and career trajectories renders visible the skills and activities of forensic examiners and police officers, and in doing so, provides valuable insights into the difficulties of introducing new forensic DNA technologies in the examination of volume crime.

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