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From Epistemology of Suspicion to Racial Profiling

Hans Gross, Mobility, and Crime around 1900

Gal Hertz

Hans Gross (1847–1915), the founder of Austro-Hungarian criminology, developed an epistemology of suspicion that targeted and profiled individuals as well as social and ethnic groups based mainly on their uprootedness and displacement. The scientific practices of observation and analysis he implemented in criminal investigations were anchored in epistemological assumptions that redefined and questioned both the object of study (namely, the criminal) and the subject (the investigator). By transferring scientific ideas and methods from the natural and social science into police work and judicial processes, Gross’s study of crime merged biological and social perspectives. This meant the categories of deviancy were attached to foreignness and social difference, migration and effects of urban life. His epistemology was underlined by social Darwinism, and his forensics, far from being an objective study, advocated what is today known as racial profiling.

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Rivka Feldhay and Gal Hertz

In this article, we offer a broad view of “knowledge in motion” based on our collaborative work and experience at the Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University. We first present our reflections through a short case study concerned with the perception of sunspots through the telescope and their alternative conceptualizations by agents with different research agendas. We then present our theoretical reflections on “migrating knowledge” and summarize a few research projects done in our center that may throw further light on our socio-epistemic framework. Finally, we articulate some of our suggestions for mobility studies in order to engage them with the kind of questions we have been concerned with for quite some time now.