ANTH 137. Law and Violence: Anthropology beyond the Forensic Gaze

This seminar, originally offered as Law and Violence, is part of Swarthmore's 2024 Racial Justice course offerings. We will explore the question of the relation between law and violence through an exploration of forensic knowledge. In 1985 the Philadelphia police department dropped a large explosive device onto the roof of a house occupied by members of the Black liberation organization MOVE, killing 11 people, including children. In 2021, almost forty years after the massacre, MOVE members and survivors of the bombing  learned that the remains of two of the children who died, Tree and Delisha Africa, had been held without their knowledge by the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University and used as educational objects in anthropology classrooms. Taking this event as its point of departure, this course is organized around two related questions: What can the objectification of the bodily remains of two Black girls become a "threshold" for studying the limits of forensic epistemologies and practices as a model for racial justice? How can we expand our analyzes of justice and repair to go beyond the "forensic gaze" in anthropology as well as elsewhere? Drawing from anthropology, critical studies of forensic science, and Black studies, the course will address the relation between forensics, anthropology, and racism and will encourage students to document, understand, and analyze ongoing strategies, including in and around Philadelphia, that seek to interrupt the "forensic gaze" in relation to Black social life. In addition, we will explore how the anti-blackness that characterizes forensic knowledge is not incidental but has been central to the history and practice of anthropology. 

In this seminar, students can expect to engage closely with works in anthropology, philosophy, political theory, as well as Black and legal studies alongside art and film that explore the relation between law and violence as well as recent writing in different genres by feminist, queer, and thinkers of color who further expand and challenge how we think and act in relation to the law and its violence. This course is suited for students interested in law, anthropology, and social theory, as well as students interested in the relation between theory and justice.
Social sciences.
2 credit.
Spring 2024. Azuero-Quijano.
Spring 2026. Azuero-Quijano.
Catalog chapter: Sociology and Anthropology  
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