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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr Christopher Lawless

Lawless, C. (2010). Managing Epistemic Risk in Forensic Science: Sociological Aspects and Issues. Sociology Compass 4(6): 381-392.

Author(s) from Durham


The last decades have seen a notable increase in the use of scientific evidence in criminal investigation, a development which has captured the imagination of the media, publics and policymakers alike. Yet behind the authoritative image of forensic science lies a highly fluid and indeterminate landscape which invites sociological interest. In what follows, I aim to provide a sense of why it holds appeal to sociology, and to also outline a more updated research agenda in the light of continuing developments and deliberation within both sociological and forensic scientific circles. This renewed agenda revolves around the topic of risk. I outline recent developments which represent new approaches to the problem of epistemic risk in forensic science. With reference to a specific example (the ‘Case Assessment and Interpretation’ method of evidence assessment), I argue for the importance of studying risk-aware practices in forensic investigation, and how these help to reveal further how forensic science can be regarded as a complicated, heterogeneous and highly socialised human activity, in stark contrast to the immutable and technologically sophisticated image often promulgated in popular accounts.