Identity & DNA identification

Identity & DNA identification

Social issues surrounding non-medical uses of genetic analysis

International closing conferences of the ANR project Genetic databases and Witnesses. Genealogy, Social Issues, Circulation (FITEGE) coordinated by Joëlle Vailly

Scientific Committee / Organizing Committee: Pascal Beauvais (Pr Université Paris Nanterre, CDPC), Florence Bellivier (Pr Université Paris Nanterre, CDPC/CRNST), Elisabeth Fortis (Pr Université Paris Nanterre, CDPC), Gaëlle Krikorian (post-doctoral fellow at Inserm, Iris), Christine Noiville (DR CNRS, CRNST), Florence Paterson (IGR ARMINES, CSI), Vololona Rabeharisoa (Pr PSL MINES ParisTech, CSI), Joëlle Vailly (DR CNRS, Iris).


Whereas the vast majority of social science studies on genetics concern health, this conference takes a different approach focusing on non-medical uses of DNA. These have developed substantially over the past two decades in a variety of fields ranging from police/legal investigations and family reunification applications in migration to familial searching and victim identification. In a number of countries, the identification of people using DNA comparison has resulted in large databases of DNA profiles being compiled. Furthermore, new approaches are being devised aimed at establishing correlations between, on the one hand, DNA sequences and, on the other, people’s geographical origin and/or characteristic traits of physical appearance. This shows how, beyond the simple question of identifying people, their very identity seems to be influenced by these approaches at the centre of contemporary biopolitics.

More generally, the various techniques aimed at identifying people also inform their social identity. Some of these techniques raise moral and politic debate or even controversy, while others do not or not to the same extent. In certain cases, DNA seems to provide solutions to social problems, whereas in others it seems to create new ones. Across the board, though, these practices invite a fresh approach to traditional social science questions. They contribute to reconfiguring a whole set of social boundaries or, to paraphrase Ian Hacking, social ‘knots’, i.e. tensions resulting from contradictory trends: between regimes of truth and uncertainty, between security and freedom, between identifying and categorising populations, and between national sovereignty and international exchange.


Conference program 


Free entrance. No registration required.

Papers will be presented in French or in English. Simultaneous translation will be provided.


contact :

Date: Thursday 11 and Friday 12 October 2018, 9:00-17:00

Venue: EHESS, Amphithéâtre Furet, 105 bd Raspail, 75006 Paris