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Dr Arely Cruz-Santiago

Research Fellow

Byrne House SF6

Dr Arely Cruz-Santiago is a Leverhulme Trust Fellow. Her project 'Forensic Citizenship: Science and Expertise in Latin America' analyses the historical development of alternative forensic grassroots practices that have emerged in Argentina and Colombia. By combining qualitative empirical research, along with archival and documentary examination, Forensic Citizenship will be the first international comparative research of its kind.
Dr Cruz-Santiago's research has been opening up a new agenda on citizen forensics (2016, 2017, 2020) that analyses emerging forms of citizenship built around Forensic Science and DNA. For the last ten years, Arely has examined grass-roots forensic practices such as the collection of DNA data, the analysis of victims’ records, the use of  GPS, CCTV images and drones to aid in the location and identification of disappeared persons. Her doctoral research investigated how lay citizens in Mexico transform themselves into self-made forensic experts. It created an impact-led theoretical avenue in the sociology of forensic science that moves beyond the expertise confined to laboratories and courtrooms into participatory research that challenges existing models of forensic investigation.
In 2019-2021 she was Co-Investigator on the ESRC transformative research project ‘Data Justice in Mexico’s Multiveillant Society’ which explored new ways to engage with big data and modes of governance to tackle the inherent asymmetries of digital practices.
Prior to this position, she held an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Geography Department at Durham University, where she  completed her PhD in 2017. Her fellowship Forensic Citizens: The Politics of Searching for Disappeared Persons analysed citizen-led forms of forensic governance in contexts of protracted conflict (e.g. Colombia and Mexico). 
From 2014-2016, while pursuing her PhD, Arely was the Co-Investigator in the ESRC-funded project ‘Citizen Led Forensics: DNA & data-banking as technologies of disruption-a novel way to learn and intervene in the search for the disappeared in Mexico’. This project set the basis for a participatory research strategy to jointly create and design, with families of disappeared persons, two citizen-led forensic technologies: A data registry of disappearances; and the first DNA database created for, and by, relatives of the disappeared.  Dr Cruz-Santiago’s research has informed this research agenda since 2011, when she received seed funds to launch a feasibility study to create a  ‘Citizen-led DNA Database’ via funds awarded by Singularity University (Palo Alto, California).
Dr Cruz-Santiago has been advisor to the IOM (Missing Migrants Project), is member of ICRC's Missing Persons Project global community of practice and member of  the panel of experts at the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

Research interests


2018  Co-Investigator ESRC Transformative Research.  Data Justice in Mexico's Multiveillant Society: How big data is reshaping the struggle for human rights and political freedoms. with Ernesto Schwartz-Marin (PI) and Conor O’Reilly (Co-I)  £202,436

2018.  ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship.Forensic Citizens: The Politics of Searching for Disappeared Persons. Principal Investigator, £94,841

2017    Postgraduate Publication Bursary Scheme. Durham University. Funding awarded to support high quality publications by Social Sciences and Health postgraduate research students. £1756

2017   President and Co-founder Durham University Mexican Society. I led the team that collected funds for the XV Symposium of Mexican Studies and Students at Durham University. £18,000

2016        Postgraduate Conference Fund. Durham, Geography Department. £1000 

2015      Complementary Scholarship for Postgraduate Researchers. Mexican Ministry of Education. Awarded in 2014 and 2015 (£3,500 each year) £7,000

2014– 2016 Co-Investigator ESRC Transformative Research.Citizen Led Forensics: DNA & data-banking as technologies of disruption-a novel way to learn and intervene in the search for the disappeared in Mexico. with Ernesto Schwartz-Marin (PI) £198,143

2014        Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS) Fieldwork Grant. £600

2012        Mexican Council of Science and Technology, CONACYT Studentship Award . Masters and PhD funding (fees and maintenance funds) £106,080

2011  Principal Investigator, Global Impact Competition. Singularity University, Palo Alto, California, 25,000 USD

External impact and engagement

2019        Semi-finalist at the ESRC Celebrating Impact Award for my role as a Co-Investigator in the project   ‘Citizen-led Forensics’ (Geography Durham) and my work as PDRA on the project ‘Strategic Network on Unacceptable forms of Work’ (Durham Law School).

2019        Research Adviser for the play El Sheriff (Theatre O) London, UK. 

2017        Silent Witness, script advisor for the season finale title ‘Awakening’ part 1 and part 2, celebrating 20 years of the Drama in BBC One. Episodes inspired in Citizen-Led Forensics (ESRC funded):

2015        Didactic Materials on how to take a DNA sample and engage in Citizen-Led Forensics:

2015        ‘Promise’: a song for the disappeared, at:

2014        Citizen-Led Forensics-Introduction:

2012        President and Co-founder (since 2012) of Gobernanza Forense Ciudadana. A.C., Civil Society Organisation that fosters citizen-led technologies to intervene in the Mexican forensic and socio-political scenario.

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