Crime Fiction and Identity, Politics and Cultural Citizenship

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Crime Fiction and Identity, Politics and Cultural Citizenship

Without a doubt, the crime genre is utilized by authors as a demonstration of the emergence of new discourses relating to politics, cultural citizenship, and identity. Crime fiction denotes narratives that are centered on criminal acts, especially on investigating said criminal actions, either through amateur work or professional detectives (Scaggs 3). They center on serious crimes that are a portrayal of real life and thereby involving societal depictions of the same. Fictional stories broaden individuals’ cultural horizons and observe and portray the pervading sentiments of its times. Crime fiction is one of the most prolific literary genres; it reveals pressing political matters, moral problems, depth of character, and pressing social vices in society. Most authors use crime novels, films, and television as a medium to demonstrate ongoing discussions in society and to highlight various issues facing communities. In the book Brown Gumshoes: Detective Fiction and the Search for Chicana/o Identity, Ralph E. Rodriguez examines the contributions of different crime fiction writers on the struggles of Chicanas/os and their importance in discussing the political, identity, and cultural citizenship of this minority group. Crime fiction plays a significant role in political, social, and cultural conversations.

Introduction to Crime Fiction

Crime fiction such as police novels, mystery novels, detective stories, and murder mysteries discuss criminal acts and focus on the investigation. According to Askanius, this literary genre dissects societal flaws and ills and exposes the failures of political structures and the economy. Additionally, Crime fiction covers several aspects of human nature and are essential in understanding what makes individual tick, such as their personalities and motivations (2). Most crime fiction authors use these narratives to document individuals’ frustrations in search of justice, while others use them to reflect their society’s status. For instance, Scandinavian crime fiction majorly exposes social vices in Denmark and Sweden societies (Askanius 2). It discusses cultural citizenship in these countries, while crime fiction by minority authors documents the struggles of the minority groups in accessing justice and their identity crisis.

Beyer documents that, in recent years, crime genres have become popular among global audiences for their exciting storylines and the insight these narratives offer on society’s cultural, social, and political aspects (13). For instance, the Bridge displays the hidden side of the poor welfare state of Sweden and Denmark border and the various social ills such as violence and fallible legal system while Sally Munt’s Murder by the Book? Discuss the issue of gender inequality and feminism. These crime dramas significantly impact audiences’ understanding of political dimensions and their reflection on contemporary issues in society.

However, crime genres face criticism on their ability to explore and evaluate taboo in society. For instance, critics argue that these narratives’ documentation of extreme violence such as women’s victimization and sexual assault is not proper as children consume the content (Beyer 18). On the other hand, proponents argue that audiences associate crime fiction with the ability to address societal anxieties by solving the mysteries of human behavior, analyzing societal ills deeply, and attributing meaning and patterns to elements of the story. Therefore, their honest presentation is essential in developing a better society.

Identity and Crime Fiction

The question of identity is central to the crime genre. In recent years authors and individuals have used crime genres to articulate and investigate the notion of identity. Alarid and Vega term identity status as the formation of central concepts that define individuals and individualism as unique, representing the elements that make an individual different from others (705). These narratives build on self-identification and self-definition. Identity formation is a fundamental concept defining an individual. According to Rodriguez, identity is what individuals share with other people and differentiates individuals from others (72). Crime fictional narratives discuss identity construction, cultural representations of national and ethnic identities, religious and sexual identities building on the social debate.

Crime fictions are essential in identity construction and representation. Askanius defines Identity construction as the process in which individuals develop a unique and clear view of themselves and their true identity (3). Female authors use crime fiction to propel feminist theory and discuss gender equality and transgressions. This contributes to the connection between modern crime genres and gender politics and interrogates and influences female identity formation (Beyer 20). For instance, in the novel Biting the Moon, Martha Grimes presents a non-conformist teenage female detective who defends underdogs and animal rights in her pursuit to discover her true identity. Female authors have successfully used crime fiction stories to enhance female identity development and representation.

Similarly, several authors use crime fiction to document cultural representations of national and ethnic identities, religious and sexual identities, including Crank (157) and Kokesh and Sternadori (141). According to Rodriguez, Crime genres are an avenue for social criticism; they provide a platform for commenting on social ills and how individuals and society view and react to their identities (96). For instance, Ralph E. Rodriguez documents that the rise in crime fiction with controversial characters contributes immensely to individuals’ attitudes on controversial topics and ethnic and minority groups. Unlike in the early days when authors did not write about the contentious issues in the society and bookstores treated books that presented controversial topics those from minority authors with a lot of fear, currently, they find a place on the shelves. He states, “I was surprised to find two Chicano detective books and one about a gay Chicano lawyer talking about gay identities on the popular mystery section instead of on the dusty bookshelf devoted to “Hispanic Authors (De Alba 1).” Crime fictions attract large audiences. Therefore, authors using them to discuss essential issues regarding cultural, religious, and sexual identities helps individuals understand what differentiates them from other people.

Additionally, reading crime fiction stories involves analyzing what motivates and represents the character; individuals form identity unaware during this process. In the book Brown Gumshoes: Detective Fiction and the Search for Chicana/o Identity, Ralph E. Rodriguez documents that fictional crime stories are more than entertainment and provide an avenue to analyze and formulate an identity. He states, “the act of solving a crime corresponds to solving a riddle of identity and knowledge (Rodrigues 73)” As readers try to put a face and form an identity for characters in crime fiction, they also unconsciously formulate their own identities. Crime fiction such as novels, films, and television help individuals in developing their identities while also exposing and playing a crucial role in the conversations relating to social ills in society and community.

Politics and Crime Fictions

The crime genre plays a vital part in political activities and institutions debates. Pyrhönen document that the investigative procedures that crime genres present are crucial in highlighting the state of legal institutions and the technicalities in legal guidelines in society (132). The nature and the tools of investigation involved in unraveling the criminal acts and the quality of the process in crime fiction are essential in highlighting the flawed justice system in society. According to Wilson, politically empowered crime fictions are crucial in revealing the myriad of frustrations that individuals go through and discriminatory habits that they experience in the search for justice in a society priding itself on impartial and just policies (2). These crime genre structures present the two sides of a case. A murder case follows the proper procedures until it is solved. It should happen in a civilized, corruption-free, and appropriate legal system and a murder case in a flawed justice system to remind the political institutions of the crisis in the justice system. Crime fictions mirror society’s status; therefore, they are fundamental in conversations regarding political institutions such as legal systems.

Secondly, crime fictions contribute to the conversation around political operations and political forces. Some authors use crime fiction to uncover the procedures and the forces behind the political elites and institutions in society. According to Wilson, the connivance of the authorities with criminal organizations makes it difficult for investigators and prosecutors to bring criminals to justice (2). For instance, in Italy, crime fiction authors produced a novel that became an instrument for analyzing contemporary Italian reality. Novels like Leonardo Sciascia’s Il Giorno Della Civetta were fundamental in highlighting Italian society’s political forces (Wilson 2). In most countries, known criminals go unpunished due to their political support and the absence of an independent legal system. Apart from documenting criminal activity and its solution, the authors of crime fiction also discuss the political factors contributing to criminals’ selective punishment, impacting the conversations around societal, political operations, and forces.

Additionally, crime genres help discuss political institutions’ impact on the status of society. Criminal fiction confronts the realities of social class and exposes citizens’ hidden and unspoken status that political intuitions tend to keep secrets. (Pyrhönen 134) states that the society appears to be safe when it is not safe; you start scratching the surface and realize how evil the state is. Notably, Scandinavian crime fiction comes to play when discussing the crime genre’s ability to expose countries’ political failures, such as welfare questions, living standards, and education. Drawing on their knowledge of the crime genre, these Scandinavian crime fiction writers uncover Nordic countries’ social and political failings in providing better living standards for their people (Askanius 14). For instance, the audience indicates how The Bridge presents a sense of artificial realism to them. Crime fiction narratives document everyday routines and events in locations familiar to readers; hence, they are essential in discussions revolving around society’s political status and activities. The crime genre highlights how the political aspect of society operates and exposes the flaws surrounding political institutions, political movements, and political forces.

Cultural Citizenship and Crime Fiction

The rise in the production and the audience of crime fiction contribute to conversations around cultural citizenship. Cultural citizenship plays a significant role in identity construction. It explains the space between political and legal citizenship, and it involves the everyday experience of minority communities in living within and belonging to the nation-state. According to Hermes (Muller and Joke 3), Cultural Citizenship, where individuals and community bond, reflects on the bonding aimed at partaking of text-related practices offered in the realm of culture. Muller and Joke documents practices such as reading, consumption, celebration, and criticizing texts (3). Cultural citizenship fosters community bonding that contributes to citizenship and civic engagements, filling society’s legal and political aspects.

Crime fiction such as novels, films, and television shows create an imaginable community to which individuals can relate. For instance, in the Scandinavian crime drama, The Bridge created a symbol community, a world beyond themselves that includes the Swedish and the Danish on the border. The viewers’ bond from this play created a common identity. Additionally, crime fiction’s expression of cultural leadership results from the political undertones and the personal experience of the issues raised by the television show. The Bridge enhanced cultural citizenship in Sweden and Denmark as the narrative highlighted the living conditions on the border of these countries that most citizens had expressed.

Crime genres create social rituals through popular cultural texts and practices that promote cultural citizenship. Hansen et al. found that using crime genres in Europe carried different social consequences compared to production in the United States (605). For instance, The Bridge in the Scandinavian community brought broadcasting, production, and audience practices together, creating a social ritual that ensures they sit together for a new episode every Sunday. This resulted in the sense of community in Sweden and Denmark at a mere act of Sunday night being a quality drama television viewer. Crime genres document the flaws in society shared among citizens, hence creating a sense of community, ultimately promoting cultural citizenship (Muller and Joke 8). Additionally, the release of these fictional works tends to develop a sense of community as individuals collectively wait for their release

Crime fictions as a Reflection of the Society

Authors of crime fiction use these crime fictions to reflect that society does not follow the law’s due process in handling matters. Most criminal novels and films document a society whose legal institutions do not follow due law process, corrupt and communities and individuals who do not trust the institution (Beyer 14). Therefore, most individuals seek justice on their own. For instance, in the Scandinavian crime fiction “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” Mikael Blomkivis loses a defamation suit in suspicious circumstances and decides to bring down the executive who won the suit on his own. This scene reflects the state of legal institutions in society; most people lose cases under suspicious circumstances and sometimes consider revenge as a better option than seeking justice.

Secondly, crime fictional authors use their creative works to demonstrate the state of the justice system that is often portrayed as weak. The narratives present society with a police department that does not conduct a thorough investigation; hence most criminals go unpunished as most defense attorneys beat prosecution attorneys’ during trials (Beyer 12). Additionally, these fictional crime narratives reflect a society whose court system uses technicalities to deny justice to people and communities (Beyer 12). For instance, the Eddie Flynn series by Steve Cavanagh reflects the flawed legal system that let criminals walk free and the various frustrations that individuals go through in seeking the justice that sometimes they do not receive.

Additionally, the authors of crime fiction use their work to depict women’s experience injustice in society. Most crime fictional stories present women as victims of a biased and fallible justice system that does not do enough to solve gender-based violence and incidences of rape (Wilson 5). Most of these films and novels are set in a cultural setting that condones male violence and a justice system that favors men. For instance, the novel “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” presents the violence women experience in society and the impact of police bureaucracies on women seeking justice. Some men rape Lisbeth, and she resorts to revenge instead of seeking justice in the police bureaucracies. However, some authors such as Sally Munt present a pro-feminist crime fiction story that reflects a strong woman. In her book Murder by the book? She documents women’s quest for identity in a judgmental and masculine society.


Crime genres are essential in understanding cultural, political, and social matters in society. Crime authors use their texts as a medium to convey ongoing discussions in the community and highlight the challenges in society. These narratives form a crucial part of political, cultural, and social discussions. Crime fiction plays a fundamental role in individuals’ identity formation and in exploring and evaluating the social ills in society. Additionally, crime fictions are crucial in understanding and enhancing conversations around the political aspect of society. They provide individuals with insights into the operation of political institutions and their responses to issues affecting society, political activities, and forces that influence society politics. Crime genres also play an essential role in understanding cultural citizenship in society by filling the political and legal citizenship gap. Despite being a necessary aspect of society, crime fiction faces critics for the honest and open ways they highlight societal issues—indicating a community aware of its social, moral, and ethical decay.

Works Cited

Alarid, Leanne Fiftal, and Ofelia Lisa Vega. “Identity construction, self perceptions, and criminal behavior of incarcerated women.” Deviant Behavior 31.8 (2010): 704-728.

Askanius, Tina. “Engaging with The Bridge: Cultural citizenship, cross-border identities, and audiences as ‘regionauts.'” European Journal of Cultural Studies 22.3 (2019): 271-290.

Beyer, Charlotte, ed. Contemporary Crime Fiction: Crossing Boundaries, Merging Genres. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2021.

Crank, Beverly R. “Accepting deviant identities: the impact of self-labeling on intentions to desist from crime.” Journal of Crime and Justice 41.2 (2018): 155-172.

De Alba, Alicia Gaspar. “Brown Gumshoes: Detective Fiction and the Search for Chicana/o Identity.” (2007): 145-147.

Hansen, Kim Toft, Anna Keszeg, and Sándor Kálai. “From Remade Drama to Original Crime–HBO Europe’s Original Television Productions.” European Review 29.5 (2021): 601-617.

Kokesh, Jessica, and Miglena Sternadori. “The good, the bad, and the ugly: A qualitative study of how young adult fiction affects identity construction.” Atlantic Journal of Communication 23.3 (2015): 139-158.

Müller, Floris, and Joke Hermes. “The performance of cultural citizenship: Audiences and the politics of multicultural television drama.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 27.2 (2010): 193-208.

Pyrhönen, Heta. “Psychoanalysis.” The Routledge Companion to Crime Fiction. Routledge, 2020. 129-137.

Rodriguez, Ralph E. Brown Gumshoes: Detective Fiction and the Search for Chicana/o Identity. University of Texas Press, 2005.

Scaggs, John. Crime fiction. Routledge, 2005.

Wilson, Rita. “local color: investigating social transformations in transcultural crime fiction.” Quaderni d’italianistica 37.1 (2016).