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This unit provides an introduction to the emerging field of ‘forensic studies’. While forensic science usually refers to technical and vocational expertise, forensic studies explores the ‘forensic sciences’ as a social phenomenon. Forensic science has captured the public imagination in the twenty-first century, as evidenced by the increasing number of novels and television programs such as NCIS and CSI that glamorise the ability of ‘forensics’ to solve any crime. At the same time, forensic science and its role in the criminal justice system has become the subject of intense critique from scholars in the fields of law and social science (in part as a result of international reviews and enquires into wrongful convictions and miscarriages of justice). In particular, these reviews have raised questions about public understandings of forensic science and how this impacts on jurors’ deliberations. The main emphasis of forensic studies is on providing a generalist understanding of the forensics field, including how developments across the field might feed into particular social and criminal justice processes.

Topics explored include the rise of popular media in which forensic science plays a central role; the effects of these media on the criminal justice system (e.g. ‘the CSI effect’); the strengths, weaknesses and status (are they ‘junk’ science?) of various forensic disciplines (e.g. DNA, fingerprinting, bite-mark analysis, facial recognition); debates regarding the use of forensic evidence for courts vis-à-vis its intelligence value in police investigative practices (including questions about ‘big data’); questions regarding the admissibility of various types of forensic evidence in the courts and levels of forensic science knowledge among actors in the criminal justice system (including police, lawyers, judges and juries); as well as the role of forensic science in wrongful convictions. The unit will be informed by scholarship on the role of science in society and framed around the tensions between science, medicine and law as alternative knowledge systems (epistemologies) in contemporary society.

Summary 2021

Unit name Forensic Science in Society
Unit code HGA216
Credit points 12.5
Faculty/School College of Arts, Law and Education
School of Social Sciences
Discipline Sociology and Criminology

Dr Loene Howes

Available as student elective? Yes
Breadth Unit? No



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About Census Dates

Learning Outcomes

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of the diversity in forensic sciences, the CSI effect and the role of forensic science in achieving justice
  2. Identify and analyse the critical decision-making points with respect to the use of forensic science in a serious criminal investigation
  3. Critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of forensic evidence in criminal and civil investigations and court processes



Mutual Exclusions

You cannot enrol in this unit as well as the following:




Multiple Choice online quiz, 20-3minutes (20%), Critical Decision Flowchart, 1000 words (30%), Discussion board contribution (10%), Position paper, 1500 words (40%)

TimetableView the lecture timetable | View the full unit timetable



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