The Morphology of Intersectionality Discordance between Ancestry Estimates and Social Identifiers

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Chaunesey Clemmons


Forensic anthropologists operate within a medico-legal context, performing analyses to estimate a biological profile (ancestry, age, sex, stature) and make observations on trauma, pathological conditions, taphonomy, and other anomalies evident in skeletal remains. These findings are reported to the appropriate requesting agency to narrow down the possible identity of the unknown individual and to understand the death event. Boundaries of identity and the terminology used to describe and explain identity are dynamic and intersectional. Ancestry estimation is important because there is a bridge between ancestral categories and sociocultural labels. Yet, a lack of agreement between ancestry estimates and social identifiers exists for certain groups. To better understand why this disagreement exists, a three-component concept (bio-origin identity, public ancestral-racial identity, and self ancestral-racial identity) modeled after sociological frameworks is employed. This article explores the identity of a single individual within the study sample using the three-component concept. Results highlight that discordance exists between the identity approximated by ancestry estimation and the application of this identity to the sociocultural context. Understanding the importance of the intersectional nature of the terminology used in instances of forensic identification is imperative so as to not hinder identifications and marginalize groups.

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