A Sociological Perspective
by Christopher Lawless
Published by Routledge, 2016,
I found Forensic Science: A Sociological Perspective to be a very interesting read. The book is directly relevant to
forensic science students, practitioners and academics, alike. Given that the book deals with forensic science’s
place in society, I believe the book would also be of interest to a wider range of forensic science stakeholders such
as police, lawyers and other criminal justice professionals. There is often a large divide between the “hard”
sciences and the social sciences but I felt as if this book could take a step towards bridging that gap for forensic
scientists. I found it very accessible. For example, any sociological terminology was fully explained.
As I was reading the text, I became aware that I hadn’t really read a forensic science book like it before. Most of the
technical books I read deal predominantly with the science. But this book made me look at my own field from a
different perspective. I enjoyed being challenged to think about some “big” questions such as if evidence can have
different meanings or significance to different people at different times, what is the underlying reality and what
can it tell us?
It is important that as well as considering the science, we take the time to think about how our scientific work fits
into society. This can be hard to do with the pressures of working life such as targets and turn-around-times. In its
approach the book takes in many different disciplines from history to philosophy and, of course, sociology and
One chapter talks about the professional identity of forensic science. In such a broad field, encompassing so many
different disciplines, how do we decide which are included or excluded? Forensic science is a maturing field and the
roles of standardisation and accreditation are discussed. Perhaps of particular interest to the Chartered Society,
the importance of journals, conferences and specialist societies in establishing a collective identity is highlighted.
Having been a practitioner and now an academic, I found many areas where the book chimed with my experience.
Very real and also relevant examples are given to illustrate points, such as the National Forensic Framework. This
ensures that the theory is firmly grounded in reality. Other interesting examples such as CSI effect and the role of
the media in forensic science are also used to give the book a very readable quality.
The author is evidently well informed and has employed a range of qualitative and quantitative methods in his
extensive research. The results of insightful focus groups and interviews with key individuals are presented
throughout. The sociological viewpoint is nicely balanced by the author’s background in science. In concluding, the
author presents compelling directions for the future of forensic science in terms of globalisation, innovation and
the relationship with social research. Overall I found the book a very engaging read, offering a topical new
perspective on forensic science.
Review by Emma Johnston MCSFS