On WEIRD Anthropologists and Their White Skeletons

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Matthew C. Go
Nandar Yukyi
Elaine Y. Chu


Most forensic anthropologists and the populations they study are WEIRD—that is, Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. In their interventions into the WEIRD, Clancy and Davis (2019) contend that WEIRD is a euphemism for white and that it is the white, Western European–derived scientists and subjects that skew the predominating narrative of the human condition. While they demonstrate how biological anthropology can decenter the WEIRD, it is fruitful to extend their framework specifically to forensic anthropology. We argue that the scientific enterprise of forensic anthropology is unique in that: (1) it is touted as an objective tool that must operate within medicolegal systems, (2) it involves board certification and accreditation standards, and (3) it holds ancestry and race as core to its practice. In a bibliometric survey of journal articles over the past five years (n = 793), we find that up to 79% of authors originate from WEIRD contexts. In articles specifically studying ancestry, European-derived populations are included 88% of the time as a category for comparison to other groups, while only 12% do not include Europeans. Furthermore, 49% of articles unrelated to ancestry use white subjects solely or in part, reinforcing a historic tendency to measure all human variation against one particular norm. We also find that WEIRD articles receive significantly more recognition than non-WEIRD counterparts. In this reflexive and positional exercise, we hope to make visible how whiteness as WEIRDness informs the history, values, and practices of forensic anthropology on a global scale.

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