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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, CRIMINOLOGY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE (oxfordre.com/criminology). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 15 October 2019

Summary and Keywords

Crime in literature takes advantage of two basic assumptions: (1) that the storyline generally begins with a crime (very often murder) that underlies the subsequent narrative, often serving as the driving force of the story; and (2) that the crime itself and its narrative implications will be rooted in the actual workings of a culture’s justice system at any given moment in time. Consequently, crime literature in particular provides readers with a snapshot of prevailing attitudes about the nature of justice in a society and the basic fears about crime that threaten its collective conscience.

To understand crime fiction from a cultural studies perspective, it is necessary to develop a broader understanding of the larger culture from which an author and his/her fictional creations emerge. Although writers create fiction for various reasons, publishers put their efforts into projects they hope will be somewhat financially profitable. Thus, published works exist in a culturally-specific space that never veers too far from the values, beliefs, and expectations of its mainstream society. To understand the fictional world conjured by an author a cultural studies approach takes into consideration larger socio-historical phenomena: What kinds of mythologies underlie a culture’s traditions? What historical events have helped shape the culture’s identity? What sort of political and legal systems organize the culture? What specific kinds of crime tend to be highlighted in a culture’s crime literature (guns, drugs, race, violence against women, class warfare, government corruption and repression, etc.)? What role do legitimate legal structures tend to play in a culture’s crime literature? What role does climate play in a culture’s identity? In short, a cultural studies approach begins by trying to determine the assumptions authors make about readers’ cultural knowledge, values, beliefs, and myths about crime and justice in order to develop a context for understanding what is taken for granted in the narrative.

Keywords: authors, crime fiction, cultural studies, cultural values, justice, popular legal culture, social order, power, resistance, verisimilitude

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