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Making Bones Talk  
Bodies, Materialities and Knowledge in the situated practices of forensic anthropology

A project in preparation -- currently conceived, developed and coordinated by:

Lorenza Mondada (Linguistics, University of Basel)

Fernanda Miranda da Cruz (Linguistics, Universidade Federal de São Paulo)


Edson Luis de Almeida Teles (Centro de Antropologia e Arqueologia Forense, Universidade Federal de São Paulo)



Several disciplines rely on various forms of paradigma indiziario (Ginzburg) to excavate the past by making objects talk – such as police inquiries, archeological excavations, and forensic investigations. Some of these disciplines address specific types of objects: human remnants, and more particularly bones. In this case, expert practitioners are involved in the reconstruction and identification of persons on the basis of human remains: this generates technical and scientific knowledge in a way that involves not only multidisciplinary expertise (from anthropology, archeology, forensic studies, medical studies and genetics…) but also an embodied engagement with various materialites, and in particular body materials. 


In this project, we study the situated practices of a team of forensic experts, engaged with the identification of victims of forced disappearance in Brazil. These practices involve various aspects that intertwine epistemic, material and anthropological issues, connecting knowledge, sensoriality and politics in the everyday practice of working with bone remnants. The project pursues the study of these practices through ethnomethodology and conversation analysis (EMCA) on the basis of video recordings of the work of a forensic team reassembling the bones of victims. The study treats their collective situated practices as a perspicuous setting in which issues of scientific knowledge, embodied manual and sensorial knowledge, and political knowledge are deeply intertwined. 

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