Monday 8
The Problem of "Race" B (submitted papers)

› 16:00 - 16:30 (30min)
› 002
Do I look Mexican? The Reification of a National Face
Abigail Nieves  1@  
1 : Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México  (UNAM)

About a century ago, Bertillon proposed methodologies based on facial features for identifying criminal suspects. The portrait parlé and the mug shot techniques were extensively popularized. They had a strong influence in the procedure to establish individual identity. 20 years ago, three anthropologists from the Institute of Anthropological Research at UNAM in Mexico City started developing a computerized system for personal identification through facial features. This system is now widely used by the Mexican Police Department and represents a landmark for similar systems in Latin America. Stemming from Bertillon's legacy, “Caramex” aims to construct more accurate portraits using a photographic database; a record of pictures obtained by sampling representative regions in the Mexican territory. Assuming a tri-hybrid origin of Mexicans (Indigenous, European and African), researchers looked at the current population to find “the typical physical traits”; in other words, to construct the Mexican face.

In this presentation, I will show how this system of identification imposes a new grid of interpretation on human variation. In the process of defining what a mestizo phenotype is, the system reifies a typical biological and national face. In generating a limited set of ears, eyes, mouths, eyebrows, etc., to represent all facial variation found in the country, the system inscribes into the human body notions of common origin and nationality. 

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