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Institute for Capitalising on Creativity

Forensic Jewellery Identification

 A design-led approach to establishing identity in Disaster Victim Identification (DVI)

PhD Student: Maria MacLennan

Within a market-orientated world focused on consumption and consumerism, we are experiencing a great loss in the more symbolic and imaginative forms of identity. As the world is becoming increasingly more digital, identity is becoming more ubiquitous and permanently ‘switched on’. There are many dimensions to an individual’s identity, and one of jewellery’s past strengths in forensic identification is its inherently symbolic nature; jewellery has personal, emotional, religious and cultural dimensions, it is connected to place and to geographic region.

This research proposes using jewellery as a design methodology through which to explore the ‘who we are’ fluidity of our personal identity, as well as how we choose to forge and define our identity in contemporary society, in juxtaposition with the never-changing ‘what we are’ which so many new ‘fixed’ identification initiatives focus on.

This research looks to explore how human-centred design can assist in empowering authorities in harnessing the rich personal information regarding an individual’s identity that is associated with their jewellery. In turn, it will consider how this knowledge can be harnessed and transferred in both a humanistic and holistic way post-mortem, that may enhance jewellery’s potential as a connected method of forensic identification: to assist in the identification of human individuals without compromising the acceptable level(s) of intimacy the public may perceive biometric technologies as having with the body.

Integral to this study will be the exploration of the connection(s) between jewellery as a means of identification and how it relates to/is distinct from other existing tools, assessing what jewellery may provide that other tools do not, and how this may enhance the holistic picture of forensic identification. Evaluating jewellery against new and emergent identification technologies such as biometrics will also be crucial in contextualising this study. The concept of proxemics will be a key methodology within this research in order to explore public taboos around identity objects and technologies and in order to assess the acceptable degree(s) of intimacy that people are looking for, and under what circumstances.

This research is sponsored by the V&A at Dundee. Academic partner: Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee

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Institute for Capitalising on Creativity
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