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Özlem Sarica

Anglistik, Universität Freiburg


Dissertationsprojekt „From Victim to Hero? Reconfigurations of the Female Detective on British Television“

As fighters against crime, sometimes in danger of corruption themselves, detectives have always had troubled heroic agency. Crime fiction has a deep-rooted tradition in Britain and it offers a 'sign-of-the-times' narrative, reflecting the social setting and discourses surrounding the British society. The same goes for television crime dramas, as the high number of recent popular productions showcase diverse configurations of the detectives as adaptable figures that display different social milieus and these series thematize the relationship between detective figures and the social order.

Female detectives, however, are a distinct case. It has only been in the last two decades that one can observe a marked rise in complexly characterized female detective leads, predicated by the international success of female fronted Nordic noir productions. While strong, complex and conflicted female leads of crime drama may appear as more common today, they are actually a very recent phenomenon in fictional crime drama. The project investigates the history of the representation of female detectives, and their increasing representational space as complexly heroized figures, on British television. This newer version of female detective representations in recent productions such as Scott & Bailey (ITV 2011-2016) and Happy Valley (BBC 2014-2016) has granted new characteristics to the crime genre and transformed the way detectives are heroized for equally changing audiences. They perform important boundary work that changes who and what can be conceivable heroised in the present British society and what cannot. The project wishes to answer the question which kinds of new frictions the swiftly increasing number of female-led crime series within the last decade has created in terms of heroisation of the detective figure? How do they challenge and reconstruct existing forms of heroic behaviour and transgressions between the attributes concerning female detective figures?

The project investigates the increase of representational space for female heroics in British Television since the 1990s by investigating the representations of four main areas: 'Transformation from victim to hero' explores reformulations of the victimization/heroization dichotomy that dominated the discourse surrounding crime narratives; 'Detectives with Private Lives and Domesticity' examines a recent reconfiguration of the genre that has taken place along with the female leading figures in the 21st century; 'Claimed Spaces' investigates how gendered spaces within crime dramas have transformed and 'Age as a Classifier of Female Heroics' explores what changing representations of aging denote for the female detectives and how aging plays a significant role for their heroic reconfiguration.

Female detectives provide us with a way of interrogating hierarchically arranged social positions. They encode and reflect meanings of heroic behaviour, as well as gender and genre transgressions. Crime fiction has the affordances to reconstruct the shared social imaginary and it provides an engagement with the contemporary world, changing power structures concerning gender by encoding former cultural scripts regarding women in the police force. With its particular narrative and visual strategies, TV crime drama reminds us how powerful these representations are in the process of cultural production.

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