I address today's meeting as a guest. I am a guest in the sense that my disciplinary background in sociology separates me from most of today's participants who are trained in one or several of the natural sciences as well as in the forensic applications of those fields of inquiry. I am trained only in the ways of a single social science, although a science which is intensely ambitious in its efforts to describe and explain what it is that makes social life – of all kinds, in all places and at all levels, from the personal through the institutional and the societal to the global – the varied, complex, but orderly achievement that it is. The inevitable corollary of my own sociological sensibility is that I risk the rejection of this audience with over-eager reminders of the necessity to take note of the ways in which all scientific and technological achievements are profoundly social enterprises whose nature and significance can be understood only by reference to their varied internal histories, and to the wider socio-cultural conceptions and aggregations within which these histories are located. However, despite this danger, and our many disciplinary differences, I also like to think that I share sufficient common interests with all others who have chosen to attend this conference to justify my status as invited guest rather than that of an unwelcome stranger. Amongst these common interests are two in particular. The first, a concern more fully to understand the rationale for, and nature of, the heterogeneous character of forensic science practice and the forces shaping both its routine and exceptional forms. The second, an ambition to specify with increasing accuracy the actual and potential contribution of forensic science to criminal justice processes within the States of the European Union and beyond. It is my contention that the successful pursuit of these, along with other such, interests depends on the ability of practitioners and researchers to supplement knowledge of natural science substance and reasoning with a range of theoretical considerations and methodological resources drawn from the humanities and the social sciences. We need to be willing to draw on these supplements if we are to analyse properly the character and role of the varying scientific assumptions which underpin forensic science reasoning, and which in turn inform credible and serviceable forensic science practice. We also need such interdisciplinary collaborations to inform the proper scrutiny of the ambitions and achievements of those who promise, develop promote, and deploy, the increasing number of technological innovations that jostle one other for attention in the contemporary forensic agora. Finally, the successful evaluation of the effects (including the effectiveness) of the investigative and judicial uses of forensic practice is impossible without the systematic study of social and organisational aspects of its delivery and use, alongside questions of its scientific adequacy and technological capability.