Accomplishing technical and investigative expertise in crime scene investigation

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research, situated at the intersection of sociology, science and technology studies and police studies, provides the first sociological account of Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) training in England and Wales. Focusing on the acquisition and everyday enactment of CSI expertise, this qualitative, ethnographic investigation asks (1) what are the roles, practices and expertise of the CSI and (2) how is the CSI’s expertise developed in training and enacted in everyday work. These questions are explored through participant observation at the main training centre for UK CSIs, observation at crime scenes, interviews with trainees during and after their training and visual methods.

By unpicking the visible and invisible components of CSI work, I analyse how CSIs are trained to document crime scenes and explore the practices of transforming a potentially relevant object from these locations into artefacts that meet the requirements of courtroom scrutiny. I demonstrate how CSIs engage actively and reflexively with the requirements of different conceptions of objectivity and the changing demands placed on them. They continually and performatively negotiate and delimit multiple boundaries, from the very literal in demarcating a crime scene to claiming their position within the investigative hierarchy in each interaction. Unlike other discussions of boundary work, for the CSI this is iterative, requires constant effort and is embedded in their routine practice. Within police environments, the CSI has scope for such boundary work. In the courtroom, however, crime scene investigation is narrowly defined.

This thesis develops our understanding of the CSI and crime scene investigation as a practice. It stresses the significance of taking this actor seriously in any account of forensic science and investigative practices. By viewing the CSI as simply an evidence collector, or not considering her work at all, the expertise and pivotal role of this actor in the meaningful and efficient use of science in policing is blackboxed. My detailed qualitative analysis of the CSI’s role, work and specialist expertise contributes a necessary account of a key actor in the police and criminal justice system.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Exeter


  • crime scene investigation
  • practice theory
  • expertise
  • evidence
  • policing
  • training

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