views updated May 21 2018


Identification is an unconscious mental process by which someone makes part of their personality conform to the personality of another, who serves as a model. Described cursorily by Freud in the context of psychopathology, the mechanism of identification has come to refer to a principal mode of relating to others and has been integrated in the processes that constitute the psyche. Identification should be distinguished from imitation, which is a voluntary and conscious act.

The notion of identification, in spite of its novelty and originality in the scientific or psychological vocabulary of the time, first appeared in Freud's writings in a letter to Wilhelm Fliess on December 17, 1896. It has always retained the meaning he gave it then: "I have confirmed, for instance, a long-standing suspicion about the mechanism of agoraphobia in women. You will guess it if you think of prostitutes. It is the repression of the impulse to take the first comer on the streetsenvy of the prostitute and identification with her" (1985c, p. 182).

Freud often associated identification and hysterical symptoms with each other in subsequent writings, but he gave the concept a greater role in the Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), especially in the commentary that follows the dream of the "spiritual butcher," as Jacques Lacan referred to the dream of the dinner party where Freud refers to the wife's identification with a friend and presumed rival (chapter 4). Freud remarks that patients can "suffer as it were for a whole host of others, and to play all the roles in a drama solely out of their own personal resources." The classic definition follows: "[I]dentification is not simple imitation but assimilation on the basis of a similar aetiological pretension; it expresses a resemblance and is derived from a common element which remains in the unconscious" (1900a, p. 150).

There is little doubt for Freud that this "aetiological claim" and "some factor held in common" are sexual in nature. Freud completes his description by demonstrating the dynamic use of identification under cover of another personality or composite formation, through the process of condensation and the use of a shared trait (the einziger Zug that Jacques Lacan translated as "unary trait"), overcome censorship and realize the forbidden infantile wishes in the dream. The concept changed little in the following years, and in the Dora case it is used to account for the complexity of hysterical phenomena.

But in 1909 Sándor Ferenczi focused interest on the concept of identification when he introduced the similar notion of "introjection." For Ferenczi the ego "is always searching for objects to identify with, transference objects," and introjects them in order to grow. Object love is nothing but introjection. In the following years, in the study of Leonardo da Vinci (1910c), Freud explored this new pathway when he wrote that the young man who will become a homosexual "represses his love for his mother; he puts himself in her place, identifies himself with her, and takes his own person as a model in whose likeness he chooses the new objects of his love" (p. 100).

Likewise, "little Hans's" identification with the phobogenic animal, and therefore with his father (1909b), of the Rat Man with his father or mother (1909d), of little Arpad with a cock (Ferenczi, 1913), or the Wolf Man united with his parents during the primal scene (1918b [1914])all are based on the model found in Totem and Taboo (1912-1913a), namely, the identification with the dead father during the totemic meal. The oral cannibalistic precursor of the mental mechanism of identification, named "incorporation," is clearly indicated in a note added in 1915 to the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d).

In 1915 the concept of identification was significantly modified, becoming a process integral to the history of the libidinal bonds woven between the ego and the other, even within the subject. The loss of an object narcissistically invested resulted in a phenomenon that Freud described in Mourning and Melancholy (1916-1917g [1915]) as "an identification of the ego with the abandoned object" (p. 249). It is important to understand that this identification, here referred to as "melancholic," is no longer partial and determined by a common trait as was hysterical identification, but total and brought about by withdrawal of the libido, which returns from the lost object to the ego. This was soon after referred to as "narcissistic identification" and considered to be more primal than ordinary identification.

In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921c), Freud describes three forms of identification: "First, identification is the original form of emotional tie with an object; secondly, in a regressive way it becomes a substitute for a libidinal object-tie, as it were by means of introjection of the object into the ego; and thirdly, it may arise with any new perception of a common quality shared with some other person who is not an object of the sexual instinct" (107-108).

The first of these modalities provides an opportunity for Freud to express the dialectic of being and having, which he used later on several occasions. "A little boy will exhibit a special interest in his father; he would like to grow like him and be like him, and take his place everywhere. We may say simply that he takes his father as his ideal" (p. 105). But the initial ambivalence evolves under the pressure of the Oedipus complex, either toward rivalry with the father or homosexual cathexis through identification with the mother. "It is easy to state in a formula the distinction between an identification with the father and the choice of the father as an object. In the first case one's father is what one would like to be, and in the second he is what one would like to have " (p. 106). Seventeen years later, on July 12, 1938, this opposition would continue to disturb Freud, who left a brief trace in his writings: "'Having' and 'being' in children. Children like expressing an object-relation by an identification: 'I am the object.' 'Having' is the later of the two; after loss of the object it relapses into 'being.' Example: the breast. 'The breast is a part of me, I am the breast.' Only later: 'I have it'that is, 'I am not it"' (1941f [1938], p. 299).

The second modality indicates the replacement of an erotic attachment, associated with the Oedipus complex, through identification and regression. A little girl coughs like her mother. "You are like her, but through suffering." Dora coughs like the love object, her father. In both cases identification is only partial, entirely limited, the ego restricting itself to borrowing only one of the object's traits.

The third modality is original. It introduces the new concept of the ego ideal and embodies it in the person of the "leader." This projection of the ideal promotes the social life of subjects who will be able to identify with one another through this common bond to an other, instead of considering one another as rivals to be destroyed. Young girls with a crush on the same singer are not jealous of one another; the loyal partisans of a leader forget their quarrels and differences. One point needs to be remembered, however: Identification is not here determined by the sexual bond that characterized the community of hysterical identification, which introduced the use of groups and "masses" in sociological research.

With the introduction of the "mythology" of the life and death instincts, and the description of the second topographical subsystem, the concept of identification changed in ways that would continue to enrich it. The nodal situation given to the Oedipus complex led to the description of complex interconnected identifications with each of the parents, which are made and unmade based on the number of possibilities for change and the data concerning their bisexual constitution.

Along with these "hysterical" forms of identification, narcissistic identification assumes particular importance in the formation of the subject. "Since then we have come to understand that this kind of substitution has a great share in determining the form taken by the ego and that it makes an essential contribution towards building up what is called its 'character"' (1923b, p. 28). A number of post-Freudian authors like Theodor Reik went so far as to see this as a formative process for the ego itself. This insight helps contextualize the following remarks by Freud concerning the necessary withdrawal of cathexis from libidinal objects, which evolutionary change forces the id to abandon: "It may be that this identification is the sole condition under which the id can give up its objects. . . . When the ego assumes the features of the object, it is forcing itself, so to speak, upon the id as a love-object and is trying to make good the id's loss by saying: 'Look, you can love me tooI am so like the object"' (p. 29-30).

Subsequently, Freud defined what he referred to as "primary identification" (primäre Identifizierung ), a fundamental process in human mental development that represents a mythical moment similar to that of primary narcissism, primary repression, or even the murder of the father by the primitive horde. The term led to a number of contradictions and misunderstandings, for the term "primary identification" was used to refer to infantile identification of the baby with its mother, something not intended by Freud. As a sign of becoming human he understands it to mean an identification with the "father in his own personal prehistory" (1923b, p. 31) that occurs prior to any form of object choice. It splits the id from the ego ideal, the first split that signifies their connection, which the theory of the formation of the superego subsequently refines. The injunction associated with identification, to "You ought to be like this (like your father)," contradicts the later admonition: "You may not be like this (like your father)" (p. 34). In response to the evolution of the Oedipus complex and the fear of castration, the superego imposes itself as the introjection of the father in his controlling capacity through a later resumption of the primary identification. "Thus we have said repeatedly that the ego is formed to a great extent out of identifications which take the place of abandoned cathexes by the id; that the first of these identifications always behave as a special agency in the ego and stand apart from the ego in the form of a super-ego, while later on, as it grows stronger, the ego may become more resistant to the influences of such identifications. The super-ego owes its special position in the ego, or in relation to the ego, to a factor which must be considered from two sides: on the one hand it was the first identification and one which took place while the ego was still feeble, and on the other hand it is the heir to the Oedipus complex and has thus introduced the most momentous objects into the ego" (1923b, p. 48).

In "The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex" (1924d), Freud returned to his description while emphasizing the role of the fear of castration. Because of this, "the object-cathexes are given up and replaced by identifications. The authority of the father or the parents is introjected into the ego, and there it forms the nucleus of the super-ego, which takes over the severity of the father and perpetuates his prohibition against incest, and so secures the ego from the return of the libidinal object-cathexis. The libidinal trends belonging to the Oedipus complex are in part desexualized and sublimated (a thing which probably happens with every transformation into an identification) and in part inhibited in their aim and changed into impulses of affection" (p. 176-77). Here Freud uses the notion of introjection as a sign of a form of assimilation that is more stable and less labile than identifications would be, being closely associated with fantasy. This is a modification of the concept defined earlier by Sándor Ferenczi and another example of the terminological misunderstandings that have hampered the evolution of the concept of identification. In any case "the super-ego retained essential features of the introjected personstheir strength, their severity, their inclination to supervise and to punish" (p. 167), Freud wrote in "The Economic Problem of Masochism" (1924c).

Freud's final thoughts on identification reveal his confusion in the face of its conceptual complexity. In chapter 31 of the New Introductory Lectures (1933a), entitled, "Decomposition of the Psychic Personality," he again attemptsand for the last timeto clarify the various processes he designates as being part of identification and concludes, "I am absolutely not satisfied myself with these developments concerning identification." But he adds a comment that will open a pathway to research on the phenomena of transmission between generations:

As a rule parents and authorities analogous to them follow the precepts of their own super-egos in educating children. Whatever understanding their ego may have come to with their super-ego, they are severe and exacting in educating children. They have forgotten the difficulties of their own childhood and they are glad to be able now to identify themselves fully with their own parents who in the past laid such severe restrictions upon them. Thus a child's superego is in fact constructed on the model not of its parents but of its parents' super-ego; the contents which fill it are the same and it becomes the vehicle of tradition and of all the time-resisting judgments of value which have propagated themselves in this manner from generation to generation. . . . Mankind never lives entirely in the present. The past, the tradition of the race and of the people, lives on in the ideologies of the super-ego, and yields only slowly to the influences of the present and to new changes; and so long as it operates through the super-ego it plays a powerful part in human life, independently of economic conditions (1933a, p. 67).

The "cruel" father himself had a father whom he took as a model, as well as a mother, and they too had a mother and a father. Every parent replays in his child the world of his own childhood as it has remained engraved in his unconscious and his preconscious fantasies, far removed from the versions he communicates to others or keeps hidden from his conscious memories. It is this universe of origins that the investigative drive of every child explores to discover the secrets of its birth and identity. For its personality is formed with this material of composite images that may one day return in the form of "visitors of the ego" (Mijolla).

Post-Freudian authors have emphasized the psychoanalytic situation surrounding the concept of identification, which Freud did not examine in terms of identification. They have insisted on the necessity and limits associated with transference identification from the patient to the analyst, emphasizing that the analyst must possess a certain amount of empathy (Einfüh-lung ), the ability to "understand what is foreign to our ego in other persons" (Freud, 1921c), and even to understand and interpret the analysand's unconscious. Identification with Freud, the founding father, although the source of intense disagreement among his contemporaries and immediate successors, nonetheless remains one of the most vital areas of interest for the analyst. Fantasies of identification, with Freud or with individuals within the "psychoanalytic genealogy" of analysts, can lead to an understanding of certain theoretical propositions and events in the history of psychoanalysis.

Both Anna Freud, through her work on identification with the aggressor, and Melanie Klein, through her work on projective identification, have helped clarify various modes of identification that have confirmed the heuristic benefits of this evasive concept. The interest in relations with the mother has led to a misreading of primary identification, whose paternal-phallic nature was identified by Freud. Following Edith Jacobsen, other authors have presented it as a pre-object archaic mother-child relation situated in a state of fusion/confusion between the self and the not-self (Sandler), and have distinguished it from the concept of "imitation" borrowed from psychological models.

The distinction between "internalization," comprising incorporation, imitation, and introjection, and associated with the construction of identity (Hartmann, Kris, and Loewenstein), and "externalization" as the distinction between internal objects and external objects, has placed identification at the crossroads of these different systems. Its narcissistic pole has also been elucidated in the so-called "mirror" relation between mother and child, which is distinct from the specular identification of the child at the mirror stage, described by Jacques Lacan (1949). "Secondary identifications" have been isolated to describe the identificatory processes associated with the appearance and growth of the object relation, of pre-oedipal, oedipal and post-oedipal relations, and so on.

Psychoanalytic interest in more serious pathologies has drawn attention to the challenges to identity, whether these involve the behavioral disturbances of adolescence or the depersonalization observed in borderline or psychotic patients. Long before he addressed these issues in his essay on Justice Schreber (1912a), Freud, in a letter to Wilhelm Fliess (December 9, 1899), noted that "paranoia dissolves the identification once more; it re-establishes all the figures loved in childhood which have been abandoned . . . and it dissolves the ego itself into extraneous figures" (1950a, p. 280).

More recently, research on identification has branched off in several directions: "counter-identification," the "identificatory project" (Piera Aulagnier), "archaic identification," "heroic identification" (Didier Anzieu), and "fantasies of unconscious identification" (Mijolla). The number of statements made to account for the richness of the concept seems interminable and psychoanalysts are still trying to determine its nature and formation.

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Adhesive identification; Adolescent crisis; Allergic object relation; Alter ego; Animus-Anima (analytical psychology); As if personality; Asthma; Autohistorization; Character formation; Collective psychology; Counter-identification; Cultural transmission; Dead mother complex; Defense mechanism; "Dostoyevsky and Parricide"; Ego; Ego and the Id, The ; Ego ideal; Empathy; Fetishism; Heroic identification; Holding; Homosexuality; Hysteria; Idealization; Identification fantasies; Identification with the aggressor; Identificatory project; Identity; Imaginary identification/symbolic identification; Introjection; "Introjection and Transference"; Little Arpåd, the boy pecked by a cock; Mastery; Megalomania; Melancholia; Melancholic depression; Midlife Crisis; "Mourning and Melancholia"; Narcissism; Object; Orality; Object relations theory; Phantom; Primary identification; Psychotic potential; Self-hatred; Superego; Thalassa. A Theory of Genitality ; Transference (analytical psychology); Transference and Counter-transference ; Transference relationship; Transitional object, space.


Ferenczi, Sándor. (1916). Introjection and transference. In his Contributions to Psychoanalysis (Ernest Jones, Trans.; pp. 30-80). Boston: Richard G. Badger. (Original work published 1909)

Florence, Jean. (1978). L'Identification dans la théorie freudienne. Brussels: Publications des facultés, Université Saint-Louis.

Grunberger, Béla, and Chasseguet-Smirgel, Janine (Eds.). (1978). L'Identification: l'autre c'est moi. Paris: Tchou.

Kanzer, Mark. (1985). Identification and its vicissitudes. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 66, 19.

Mijolla, Alain de. (1986). Les Visiteurs du Moi, fantasmes d'identification, Confluents psychanalytiques (2nd ed.). Paris: Les Belles Lettres. (Original work published 1981)

Mijolla, Alain de. (1987). Unconscious identification fantasies and family prehistory. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 68, 397-403.

Further Reading

Silverman, Martin. (2002). The will to succeed and the capacity to do so: The power of positive identifications. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 71, 777-800.

Smith, Henry. (2001). Hearing voices: The fate of the analyst's identifications. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 49, 781-812.


views updated May 23 2018


The defining feature of the crime of genocide is the deliberate destruction of a group. That the term genocide denotes group destruction is evident in the term itself: Sensing that no word captured the horror of Nazi atrocities, Polish attorney Raphael Lemkin coined the term from the ancient Greek genos (meaning race, nation, or tribe) and the Latin suffix cide (meaning "killing") (1947, p. 147). Article II of the 1948 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (hereinafter referred to as the 1948 UN Genocide Convention) thus describes genocide as the commission of a specified act or acts "with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such." Murder motivated by hatred of one person, as opposed to hatred of the group of which the person is a member, does not comport with this definition. Nor does the deliberate starvation of others, unless the perpetrator deprives victims of food for the purpose of eradicating the group to which the victims belong. There is no doubt that an action perpetrated against an individual can be criminal—in some cases, a crime against humanity. But such an action could not be genocide, the offense often called "the crime of crimes."

The designation of genocide as the supreme crime recognizes the importance of human grouping. Much of human rights law focuses on the autonomy, security, and development of the individual; accordingly, many human rights norms are intended to protect the individual against mistreatment at the hands of those in positions of power. Yet even classical liberals, whose work has provided a philosophical basis for human rights law, consider an individual's assimilation into a society a step toward the realization of individual human dignity. Human beings group together because of shared ideas and interests, and to work for common goals. The intentional destruction of a group—the essence of genocide—warrants the most severe condemnation for the very reason that it thwarts these ends.

Some have argued that all, or perhaps many, human collectivities should be counted as among those groups protected by bans on genocide. The drafters of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention thought otherwise, extending protection only to national, ethnical, racial, and religious groups, and thus excluding other groups, such as political, cultural, or social groups.

Group membership implies a common identity, shared attributes, and a sharing of ideas or beliefs with others. Group members may be linked by a single commonality, such as an affinity for jazz piano, or a passion for the local football team. Groups susceptible to the possibility of genocidal aggression and protected by the ban on genocide typically share unique complexes of traits. Identification denotes the process by which one of these complexes of shared attributes—this identity—is recognized. Group nonmembers, as well as members, participate in this process of creating group identity. With regard to genocide, the phenomenon of identification provokes two lines of inquiry: Is it the victim or the perpetrator of genocide who identifies the victim as belonging to a group? Does the subjective understanding of either, or both, suffice to establish group membership? Ad hoc international tribunals established in the 1990s, set up to investigate violations of international criminal law, expressed ambivalence with regard to these questions.

In what was the first international judgment of conviction for the crime of genocide, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) placed emphasis not on subjective perceptions but on objective factors. It thus interpreted the UN proscription against genocide to be applicable only to "'stable' groups, constituted in a permanent fashion," and to groups whose members belong to those groups "automatically, by birth, in a continuous and irremediable manner" (Prosecutor v. Akayesu, para. 511). This stable-and-permanent-group formula, as it came to be known, drew criticism. Many social scientists as well as biologists have in recent decades rejected claims that race is fixed and biologically determined; to the contrary, they have concluded that attributions of "race" derive from "social myth," formed in no small part by subjective perceptions (UNESCO Statement, 1950, p. 15). By the mid-1990s Professor Thomas K. Franck had posited a right of individuals "to compose their own identity by constructing the complex of loyalty references that best manifest who they want to be" (Franck, 1996, p. 383). Assignment of group status based on a search for constant and unchanging attributes clearly would run counter to this latter view of group identification as a dynamic process of social construction. The Rwanda tribunal's second decision thus underscored the subjective aspects of identity and group membership; in attempting to refine its concept of what constitutes a group, it wrote of "a group which distinguishes itself, as such (selfidentification); or, a group identified as such by others, including perpetrators of the crimes (identification by others)" (Prosecutor v. Kayishema, para. 98). This new emphasis won praise as "a welcome shift that takes into account the mutable and contingent nature of social perceptions, and does not reinforce perilous claims to authenticity in the field of ethnic and racial identities" (Verdirame, 2000, p. 594).

The 1948 UN Genocide Convention's definition of genocide, it would seem, rested only on the perpetrator's subjective perception. The UN proscription against genocide arose of a desire not just to punish those who succeeded in destroying groups, but more fundamentally to prevent such destruction from occurring in the future. The convention thus prohibits acts executed with the intent to destroy, and permits conviction even if those acts failed to wreak permanent harm on a group. The definition speaks of a group not as an independent and objectively demonstrable element, but rather of one's subjective belief in the existence of a group as a component of the mens rea (the guilty mind) that one must possess before one's crime qualifies as genocide. The text of the definition could be construed to mean that all that matters is the state of mind of the perpetrator; that is, that the element of the group is met as long as the perpetrator subjectively identified the victim as belonging to a group.

Wholly subjective determinations of group status could lead to absurd results, however. Surely there is a risk of overinclusion. Imagine a serial killer who, aiming to bring an end to the wearing of earrings, chose victims solely on the basis of whether they wore earrings. Earring-wearing could then be viewed as the shared attribute according to which the perpetrator subjectively grouped persons. To identify as composing a group persons who have never grouped themselves—who have never engaged in any of the joint human endeavors that the ban on genocide is supposed to shield—could result in a finding that genocide was "committed against a group that does not have any real objective existence" (Schabas, 2000, p. 110). Conversely, there is also a risk of underinclusion. Imagine a defendant who professed to be unaware of victims' group membership, who maintained that any such membership was coincidental to any violence that might have occurred. If all that mattered were the perpetrator's state of mind, this kind of testimony alone might lead to acquittal, even in the face of objective evidence that victims belonged to an identifiable and protected group. Decision on whether a defendant possessed the requisite malevolent intent, therefore, must entail an examination of more than just the defendant's own perceptions.

Evidence that relates to the subjective understandings of persons who identify with a group is thus key to the resolution of a victim's group status. As in the case of the perpetrator's perceptions, however, this criterion of victim perception ought not to provide the exclusive basis for identification. During the first fifty years that followed World War II, in the absence of any treaty that defined crimes against humanity, groups that had been the objects of certain kinds of violence endeavored to have their sufferings recognized as the aftereffects of genocide; even into the twenty-first century, conventional wisdom reserves its harshest condemnation for persons labeled génocidaires. But a desire to establish that victims belonged to a group protected by bans on genocide, and thus that their sufferings constituted a byproduct of genocide, could distort testimony regarding commonalities. In contrast with this risk of overinclusion, there is, again, a risk of underinclusion. Victims unaware that they were targeted because the perpetrator believed that they belonged to a group—victims who may not, in fact, have belonged to any such group—would be unable to establish that they suffered harm on account of the perpetrator's group loathing.

Early tribunal judgments were not oblivious to these concerns; even those that emphasized one type of evidence gave at least passing attention to other types. Group status in the twenty-first century is determined by the comprehensive examination of a particular context. Considerable weight is placed on subjective perceptions. The defendant's understanding, manifested both by the defendant's testimony at trial and by things the defendant has written or told others, receives careful scrutiny. Also receiving careful scrutiny is testimony that victims saw themselves as belonging to a group, or that other group members claimed a victim as one of their own. Contextual inquiry likewise looks to objective indicators. The Rwanda tribunal, for example, recognized Tutsi as a group, in no small part because of the evidence adduced regarding identity cards that the Rwandan government had issued, cards that perpetrators used to confirm cardholders' ethnicity, as a means to select whom to victimize (Prosecutor v. Akayesu, paras. 83, 122–123, 170, 702; Prosecutor v. Kayishema, paras. 523–526). Similarly, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, even as it refused to look for "scientifically irreproachable criteria," found objective evidence of victims' group status in the Yugoslav Constitution's description of Bosnian Muslims as a "nation" (Prosecutor v. Krstic, paras. 70, 559). Both tribunals relied on expert sociohistorical testimony to bolster their conclusions. In short, a combination of case-specific factors—subjective and objective evidence, evidence of self-identification and of other-identification—is relevant to resolution of whether a victim was identified as belonging to a group protected against genocide.

SEE ALSO Ethnic Groups; Racial Groups; Religious Groups


Amann, Diane Marie (2002). "Group Mentality, Expressivism, and Genocide." International Criminal Law Review 2:93–143.

Franck, Thomas M. (1996). "Clan and Superclan: Loyalty, Identity and Community in Law and Practice." American Journal of International Law 90:359–383.

Lemkin, Raphael (1947). "Genocide as a Crime under International Law." American Journal of International Law 41:145–151.

Prosecutor v. Akayesu. Case No. ICTR-96-4 (September 2, 1998). Trial Chamber I, Judgment, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Available from

Prosecutor v. Kayishema. Case No. ICTR-95-1-T (May 21, 1999). Trial Chamber II, Judgment, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Available from

Prosecutor v. Krstic. Case No. IT-98-33 (August 2, 2001). Trial Chamber I, Judgment, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Available from

Schabas, William A. (2000). Genocide in International Law: The Crime of Crimes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

"UNESCO Statement by Experts on Race Problems" (July 18, 1950). In Statement on Race, ed. Ashley Montagu. New York: Henry Schuman, 1951.

United Nations (December 9, 1948). Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Entered into force January 12, 1951; 78 U.N.T.S.277.

Verdirame, Guglielmo (2000). "The Genocide Definition in the Jurisprudence of the Ad Hoc Tribunals." International and Comparative Law Quarterly 49:578–598.

Diane Marie Amann


views updated Jun 27 2018


Identification means verifying that something or someone is a particular object or person. To a large extent, the field of forensics revolves around this task because, in many cases, laws revolve around the identity of objects or people. The United States legal system includes laws covering topics from voter identification to identity theft to eyewitness identification. Identity must be established before death certificates can be issued and before life insurance policies are redeemed. Forensic scientists may be called upon to identify the origin of objects found at the scene of a crime such as bullets, hairs, or documents. Their work often requires the identification of a person from trace evidence such as fingerprints, blood , or even teeth marks. Forensic scientists maintain a variety of skills and technologies, which aid them in identification.

Each human being has unique characteristics, both physical and social, and these characteristics are what allow for the identification of humans. The study of these characteristics is called biometrics . Biometric techniques attempt to quantify the unique characteristics of a person by measuring them in some way.

The most obvious biometric technique is identification by appearance. This includes a person's height, weight, skin color, hair color, and eye color. Other visible physical markings such as scars, facial hair, and wearing glasses can also be used for identification. Of course, most of these physical characteristics may be altered over time: weight can be gained and lost; hair can be colored; even eye color can change by wearing contacts. Such changes can make features of the appearance deceptive when attempting to identify a person.

Humans have a variety of different physical features that are not obviously apparent that make them unique from one another. These include DNA , the shape of the teeth, hand and fingerprints, and features of the eyes. DNA is an extremely long molecule found in the nucleus of all human cells, including the cells at the root of hairs, and in skin tissue, semen , and blood. DNA is made up of a sequence of four different nucleotides and particular regions of this sequence can vary in unique ways from person to person. These variations can be determined using different biochemical analyses, often called DNA typing or DNA profiling , and are used for identification. Forensic dentistry (odontology ) is the study of the various features of teeth that allow for the identification of a person from his or her teeth. Usually identification is based on comparing teeth or bite marks to dental records from an earlier time. Often these comparisons look for the presence of dental treatments and reconstructions. In addition, DNA can be extracted from teeth. Each person's hand and fingerprints are unique, even those of identical twins who have identical DNA. The exact patterning of the ridges, sweat pores, and pores of oil glands has been used for identification in criminal cases since the end of the nineteenth century. Retinal scans rely on the pattern of blood vessels in the back of the human eye, which have a unique pattern in each person. Although somewhat costly, this form of identification is one of the most accurate available.

A third group of biometric features revolve around behaviors that are unique to an individual. These can be social behaviors such as how a person walks or moves, a person's speech patterns and voice inflection, and handicaps that may be apparent. Such features can be documented on video or audiotape and analyzed for identification. Other behaviors used in biometrics include signature analysis, keystroke dynamics, and digitally analyzed voice characteristics.

Finally, physical identifiers can be imposed on people. Examples include branding and tattooing, although these types of identification can be associated with socially repressive systems, such as slavery and racial subjugation. Other forms of imposed physical identification include wearing of jewelry with identifying information such as dog tags, ID bracelets, anklets, and badges. Some of these may even be equipped with radio transponders that not only identify a person, but also his or her location. Microchips have been developed that can be implanted under the skin of valuable breeds of animals so that they cannot be lost and under the skin of endangered species so that information about their migration patterns can be learned. As this technology develops, the application may be applied to the identification of humans in certain circumstances.

The forensic identification of objects spans a broad array of techniques and technology depending on the object in question and the reason for the identification. When fires occur, forensic scientists may be called upon to identify charred remains. In the case of automobile accidents , tire tracks , car parts, and even shards of glass may require identification. Incidents involving guns depend on ballistics experts to identify the bullet as well as the firearm responsible for discharging it. Recovered materials from thefts and forgeries often require the identification of valuables such as artwork, manuscripts, and jewels. Crimes involving breaking and entering require the identification of the tools used to force entry. The examples of investigation related to criminal activity and requiring identification are extensive.

see also Biometric eye scans; Biometrics; DNA fingerprint; DNA sequences, unique; Fingerprint; Fracture matching; Hair analysis; Handwriting analysis; Odontology.


views updated May 23 2018

347. Identification

  1. Emmaus where two disciples discover identity of Jesus. [N.T.: Luke 24:1335]
  2. Euryclea Ulysses nurse; recognized him by scar on thigh. [Gk. Lit.: Odyssey ]
  3. Longinus centurion finally sees Christ as son of God. [N.T.: Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47; Christian Legend: Hall, 193]
  4. Orestes recognized by Iphigenia at the moment of his sacrifice. [Gk. Lit.: Iphigenia in Tauris, Kitto, 327347]
  5. Passover Jewish festival; blood of sacrificed lambs placed on houses of the Israelites to prevent death of their firstborn. [O.T.: Exodus 12:313]
  6. Sakuntala (fl. 40) recognized as queen on return of lost ring. [Sanskrit Lit.: Abhijnanasakuntala, Brewer Dictionary, 955]
  7. shibboleth word used by Gileadites to identify Ephraimites who could not pronounce sh. [O.T.: Judges 12:46]
  8. Simeon recognizes young Jesus as messiah. [N.T.: Luke 2:2234]
  9. Stanley, Henry (18411904) American journalist finds explorer, Dr. Livingstone, in Africa (1871). [Am. Hist.: Van Doren, 263]
  10. Ulysses bow Penelope recognizes husband by his ability to bend Ulysses bow. [Gk. Lit.: Ulysses ]


views updated Jun 11 2018

i·den·ti·fi·ca·tion / īˌdentəfiˈkāshən/ • n. the action or process of identifying someone or something or the fact of being identified: each child was tagged with a number for identification | it may be impossible for relatives to make positive identifications. ∎  a means of proving a person's identity, esp. in the form of official papers: I asked to see his identification. ∎  a person's sense of identity with someone or something: children's identification with storybook characters. ∎  the association or linking of one thing with another: the traditional Russian identification of democracy with anarchy.


views updated May 29 2018

1. The process of determining the identity of a user or a using process; it is necessary for access control. Identification is usually accomplished by authentication.

2. The process of determining how a control parameter influences a system.


views updated Jun 27 2018

identification (I-den-ti-fi-kay-shŏn) n. (in psychological development) the process of adopting other people's characteristics more or less permanently. Identification with a parent is important in personality formation.