The Fiction of Law. About Crime, Justice, facts and imagination (abstract delivery: 10th September 2015)

full name / name of organization: 
Altre Modernità, Università degli Studi di Milano (Italia)
contact email: 

In a traditional perspective, we define crime fiction as a popular genre regulated by a clearly identifiable set of formal and thematic rules – or "formulae" (Scaggs 2005) – and aligned, with minimal departures, to the paradigm proposed by W.H. Auden in 1948: "a murder occurs; many are suspected; all but one suspect, who is the murderer, are eliminated; the murderer is arrested or dies." (The Guilty Vicarage). In its natural evolution process, the genre has emancipated itself from this formulaic structure and from the thematic limitations to become a privileged site for stylistic experimentation (including documentary fiction, both literary & filmic) and for the voicing of social concerns and political reflections. What remains a constant in the genre is the vital link with "the real world of crime", including the consequences of crime in and for the community, which is inflected in a range of permutations, generating a host of interesting subgenres.
Whilst remaining fully aware that the broadened horizons of the genre generate multiple possibilities for expression, we note the existence in all narratives of crime of one independent variable: a problematized relationship between the individual and the law; between the normative framework that regulates the life of the community of reference and the personal circumstances that may lead to trespasses on this frame. Attendant to this tension is a contestable notion of what constitutes crime, and the relationship between infringement and punishment.
The notions of "just" and "criminal" are two sides of the same coin which are much less antipodean that they appear to be: the borders between legal and illegal have become, in the current social organization, often blurred and mobile: they have suffered under the prevailing influence of a new notion of power (social and political) and of a reconceptualization of the principles of ethics in most Western societies.
Crime fiction is extremely effective in analyzing this sort of ontological problem. Defined by a strong tendency to organize contents in sharp dichotomies and at the same time by the development of "forms of resistance" restoring interstitial spaces and grey areas, crime fiction may be a fruitful ground to address some basic questions:
- how and to what extent can the genre function as a tool to speak about real facts and actual investigations?
- Can a fictionalized discourse on crime become a credible cultural document, can it affect readers' understanding and response to issues of crime, law and justice?
- How are the requirements of realism (e.g. of situation, or of place) reconciled with the artistic requirements of a work of narrative fiction? (See T. Capote and new journalism, Saviano, Michael Moore)
- to what extent is it possible to speak of a "narrative of the law", i.e. the kind of rhetoric often used in the rules and norms supposedly organizing a community and in fact leaving plenty of space to interpretation, that very interpretation that allows for the existence of crime.
The sememe "crime fiction" connotes a generic area, which is in constant expansion. Most relevant to this CFP is the relatively recent tendency to represent crime as an epiphenomenon of community dysfunctions; the tangible manifestation of a society that has ceased to operate properly and has lost its compass). Assuming that the role of the institutions and of the systems for crime detection and prevention is to guarantee a safe, equitable, just – hence "functioning"- society, what does crime tell us about the effectiveness with which this role is performed? How does crime fiction engage with the institutions? What strategies does it use to configure and represent a system unable to guarantee crime prevention and control?

Within this broad scope, Issue 15 of Other Modernities welcomes contributions that, developing a theoretical or an applied perspective, address a number of research themes that include but are not limited to:

- The notion of law, justice and crime in fact and fiction
- Docudrama and new forms of crime journalism
- Revising new journalism: from Truman Capote onward
- Feature films and true crime
- Documentary filmmaking and the representation of crime
- Literature and the representation of crime
- Michael Moore and the objectivity of crime
- Unspoken crimes: killed and killing women/mothers
- Unspoken crimes: migrants, refugees and asylum seekers
- Political crimes
- Crime, ethnicity and racism
- Genre hybridisation
- Law and/in literature
The editorial board has established the following deadlines.
Authors should send in their proposals in the form of a 10 (min.)-20 (max.) line abstract with a brief bio-bibliography to by 10th September 2015.
Communication to accepted contributors will be sent by the editorial office by 15th September
Full papers must be received by 15th January.
The issue will be published May 2016 (end).
Reviews or interviews to authors or researchers dealing with the issue's subject will also be welcome. In order to make the contributions as consistent as possible, the editors are fully available to be contacted by authors by email or through the editorial office (