Genetic syncretism: Latin American forensics and global indigenous organizing

Lindsay A. Smith, Vivette García-Deister

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the 1970s, Latin America became a global laboratory for military interventions, the cultivation of terror, and ideological and economic transformation. In response, family groups and young scientists forged a new activist forensics focused on human rights, victim-centered justice, and state accountability, inaugurating new forms of forensic practice. We examine how this new form of forensic practice centered in forensic genetics has led to a critical engagement with Indigeneity both within and outside the lab. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with human rights activists and forensic scientists in Argentina, Guatemala and Mexico, this paper examines the relationship between forensic genetics, Indigenous organizing, and human rights practice. We offer the concept of ‘genetic syncretism’ to attend to spaces where multiple and competing beliefs about genetics, justice, and Indigenous identity are worked out through (1) coming together in care, (2) incorporation, and (3) ritual. Helping to unpack the uneasy and incomplete alliance of Indigenous interests and forensic genetic practice in Latin American, genetic syncretism offers a theoretical lens that is attentive to how differentials of power embedded in colonial logics and scientific practice are brokered through the coming together of seemingly incompatible beliefs and practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)447-469
Number of pages23
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Forensic science
  • Genetics
  • Indigeneity
  • Latin America
  • Race
  • Social movements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy


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