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"Antigone's forensic DNA database. The Politics of 'futile' technologies & the search for the disappeared in Mexico" Ernesto Schwartz-Marin (Durhan University)

Egenis seminar series

Egenis seminar series. Antigone’s tragedy and the search for the disappeared has been aesthetically and politically appropriated by artists and activists alike in Mexico and Latin America (Weiner 2015) both as a site ‘for radical political thought’ (Chanter 2010:22) as well as a ‘source of inspiration’ to ‘give voice to the disappeared, defend those who died, and demand a proper burial as an act of defiance, mourning, and remembrance’ (Poulson 2012:48-9).

Event details

In this paper I consider what would happen if Antigone had a DNA database to give another kind of voice to the disappeared, and build another politics around forensic humanitarian intervention. I ask, what sort of voice and politics would that be? I aim to answer this question by thinking through the relationships between futility, forensic technologies and the notion of a liberal political subject as it is articulated in contemporary Mexico; a country where more than 150,000 people have been killed, 25-27,000 remain disappeared and more than 15,000 corpses are waiting to be identified. The Antigone(s) in my story are the families and individuals that constituted the governance body of a project known as ‘Citizen-Led Forensics’ which brought to the world the first forensic DNA database created, managed and designed by relatives of the disappeared in Mexico. I show that the identification of thousands of bodies in mass graves, or the location of missing people is a political matter through and through, and a DNA forensic database created by those seeking to identify their loved ones is seen by some groups of allies and enemies, as a dangerous and destabilising force. I argue that it is only once technologies are not bound by principles of efficiency, market logics, or exclusive expertise, that danger and defiance becomes a fertile ground for a politics of justice to emerge; a politics of justice that can transgress the old tropes of individual vs. collective rights, and thus throw new light on the unexamined state-centric notions of forensic humanitarianism and the potential of a citizen-led science.


Byrne House