Crime Fiction and Ecology
Green Letters 22,1 (2018) Crime Fiction and Ecology
Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism is the journal of ASLE-UKI (the UK-Ireland branch of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment). It is a peer-reviewed journal published by Routledge and supported by Bath Spa University and the University of Worcester. Green Letters explores interdisciplinary interfaces between humans and the natural and built environment. Submissions are now invited for a themed issue ‘Crime Fiction and Ecology’ to be edited by Joseph Walton (University of Surrey) and Samantha Walton (Bath Spa University).
‘The noir narrator begins investigating a supposedly external situation, from a supposedly neutral point of view, only to discover that she or he is implicated in it.’
This special edition of Green Letters invites ecocritical readings of crime and detective narratives, and reflections on ecocritical theory and environmental philosophy informed by detective fiction. Patrick Murphy has urged ecocritics to study “nature-oriented mystery novels—with or without detectives, and perhaps even without murders—in order to understand the degree to which environmental consciousness and nature awareness has permeated popular and commercial fiction”. But crime fiction is not only a benchmark of how effectively a specialist knowledge has been popularised: it is also a form of specialist knowledge in its own right, with its own distinct contributions to make to our understanding of human-nature relations and environmental crisis.
Since its rise in the 19th century, detective fiction has been highly responsive to developments in science and technology, including forensics, photography, and telecommunications. The quintessential detective figure has been invested with authority to wield new technologies and new ways of knowing, in order to contain social deviancy and quell fears caused by the threat of crime. In the long history of detective fiction, these threats, powers and responsibilities have necessarily changed. Now, in the context of massive environmental crisis, the detective’s functions may need, once again, to be reconsidered. Faced with the traumatic possibility of being the lone figure capable of understanding global connectivity, the ‘figure’ of the detective may splinter into distributed and collective forms of agency. This ‘figure’ may be called upon not only to restore and to reassure, but also to bear witness, diagnose, critique, mourn, protest, disrupt, and act in the pursuit of ecological justice.
Particular incarnations of the detective figure offer ecocriticism opportunities to reflect on how the production of knowledge and the pursuit of ecological justice can be situated and embodied. These incarnations include the maverick, the inscrutable hardboiled PI, the by-the-book cop, the amateur sleuth, the feigned incompetent, the genius, the undercover operative, the reluctant detective and the odd couple. Likewise, other figures and tropes of crime fiction—such as the villain, the witness, the crime scene, the interview, the false solution, the gathering, the unmasking—provide opportunities to reflect on the forms and functions of environmental criticism, and on ecological narratives more generally.
How can the narrative structures characteristic of the crime genre—mystery, investigation, denouement—and its ways of theorising knowledge, agency and responsibility be extended, for instance, to consider questions of systemic and slow violence in a global context? How can justice be conceived and enacted when antagonistic actors and agencies are no longer the ‘evil geniuses’ of classic detective fiction, but corporations, governments, communities, or even systemic dynamics that have no clear personal or institutional form or locus of legal and moral responsibility?
We welcome articles which draw on crime fiction in order to challenge and refresh the theoretical perspectives of ecocriticism, new materialism, and the environmental humanities. We seek articles which address overtly ecologically-oriented crime fiction, such as eco-thrillers. We are also interested in scholarship which addresses not obviously ecology-centric detective fictions, and which locate these works in their historical and ecological contexts. Not-obviously oriented detective fictions may include golden age whodunnits, espionage, hardboiled fiction, police procedural, contemporary cosy mysteries and others. In this respect, we are particularly interested in seeing proposals which attend to literary or other cultural productions of the Global South, and/or which address the transnational reception of crime narratives.
Authors are encouraged to consider, but are not limited to, the following topics:
Scenes. Crime scenes, edgelands and criminality, liminal spaces, gendered landscapes, othered places, traces, clues, the materiality of the crime scene, the temporality of the crime scene, cold cases.
Nature tropes in crime narratives. Country houses, islands, weather, wildernesses, moorlands, marshes, edgelands, beaches, waterways, country and city, anti-pastoral, postcolonial space, conflict zones, deathscapes.
Bodies and beings. Embodiment, ecofeminist readings, animality and criminality, criminology, atavism, degeneration, toxicity and transcorporeality, assemblages, pathogens, human and non-human agency, animal and other non-human villains, victims, witnesses and detectives.
Epistemology. Ways of knowing, subterranean knowledges, agnotology, red herrings, climate change denial, standards of proof, complexity and opacity, sciences of detection, forensics, reification, ecosystem services.
Responsibility. Criminal responsibility, the detective’s responsibility, corporate social responsibility, slow violence, distributed responsibility, carbon trading, financial forensics, accountability, green accounting.
Green activism and its criminalisation. ‘Eco-terrorism’, environmental legislation, rule of law, resistance to occupation of indigenous land, green activists on trial, self-defence as a legal defence, Greenpeace, Earth First!
Systematicity and totality. ‘Theories of everything,’ interconnection, meshworks, networks, nets, webs, hyperobjects, assemblages, markets, locked rooms, strange strangers.
Security. Environmental security, energy security, energy conflict, risk, military technologies and detective work, surveillance and detection, petrofictions.
To have a submission considered, please send an abstract (approximately 500 words) to Joseph Walton (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Samantha Walton (email@example.com). The abstract itself should be attached as an anonymous document in Word with a covering email that should give your name, address and institutional affiliation. The deadline for abstracts is Friday 20 January, 2017. A decision as to which articles will be commissioned will be made by the end of February, 2017. The deadline for first draft essays will be 31 August 2017 with publication due in March 2018.
 Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought. Cambridge: Harvard, 2010. pp.16-17
 Patrick Murphy, Ecocritical Explorations in Literary and Cultural Studies, Plymouth: Lexington, 2009. p.143
 Cf. Stephen Knight, Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1980.