Crime Fiction and the Social Contract
Andrew Pepper, Stewart King, Barbara Pezzotti, Carlos Uxo

September 28, 2021, 8:00pm - 10:00pm
Arts, Monash University



Monash University

Topic areas


Crime Fiction and the Unravelling of the Social Contract: Generic Breakdown at the End of Days

Andrew Pepper (Queen’s University Belfast, English)

In this talk, I take as my starting point the turn by a number of crime writers towards the apocalypse and apocalyptic themes: namely, Lauren Beukes’s Afterland (2021), Hanna Jameson’s The Last (2019), Deon Meyer’s Fever (2017), Hye-Young Pyun’s The City of Ash and Red (2018), Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers (2019), and Ben Winters’s The Last Policeman (2012). In part, and looking at the long history of the genre, crime fiction has always been interested in the benefits and problems of the social contract: as I have argued, even the earliest crime stories ‘end up responding to the threat of social anarchy by justifying a Hobbesian move from the state of nature into the social contract while at the same time hinting, intentionally or otherwise, at the inadequacies of the state’s provisions for law enforcement’ (Unwilling Executioner, 24). These contemporary crime/apocalypse novels allow us to think about how much and how little has changed: in response to the spectres of global pandemics, nuclear explosion and climate emergencies, the states in these novels have evolved/crumbled and with this their imperfect mechanisms for maintaining order, law and justice. As such I am interested in teasing out and interrogating three related lines of critical enquiry: first the potential to read these texts as world literature, given the global nature of the threats and the breakdown of national traditions and borders; second, the issue of how the unravelling of the social contract occasioned by the apocalyptic threat is dealt with by or within the parameters of the crime story; and third, the extent to which this social unravelling presupposes and indeed produces an unravelling of genre or at least the emergence of new hybrid forms.

Environmental Crime Fiction: Towards a New Social Contract

Stewart King (Monash University, European Languages)

The environmental movement in its multiple manifestations has questioned the relevance of ongoing economic and social practices worldwide. This diverse movement challenges us to rethink how we relate to each other as well as to the planet and to the other beings that inhabit it. My paper explores how this environmental questioning of current practices is articulated in contemporary eco-noir or environmental crime fiction. Through an analysis of Finnish author Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer (2010), Catalan writer Jordi de Manuel’s The Smell of Rain (2006) and Polish Nobel laureate Olga Tokarzcuk’s Drive Your Plough over the Bones of the Dead (2009), I shall examine the ways in which these writers use the genre’s conventions to criminalise the current social contract and to replace it with a new, broader contract that is not limited to any single national jurisdiction and that, moreover, expands agency beyond humans to include what Timothy Morton in The Ecological Thought (2010) calls the “strange stranger”.

How the social contract has failed women

Barbara Pezzotti (Monash University, European Languages)

Crime fiction has been long accused of being a conservative genre that reaffirms the social order and endorses a patriarchal society. This view has been challenged by a number of crime novels which successfully denounce violence against women, and the evil of patriarchal societies that feeds such violence. In my talk I will analyse the representation of gender violence and femicide in Dacia Maraini’ Voices (1997), Maria-Antònia Oliver’s Study in Lilac (2001), and Stieg Larsson’s Men Who Hate Women (2005). I will show how these crime novelists use the crime fiction genre to shift the readers’ attention from an individual crime and an individual culprit to point to a systematic failure of Western States, and the social contract that pinpoints them. Throughout their narrative, these writers historicise the evil of femicide, arguing that far from being merely a matter for psychiatrists, it has profound roots in Western culture. They describe it as a pervasive evil in contemporary society and a gangrene very difficult to eradicate as it concerns everybody, and is not only identifiable with deviant personalities. Ultimately, I show how crime fiction can act as a privileged genre for exposing how the social contract has failed women.

Maintaining the Revolutionary social contract: the role of Cuban television police shows

Carlos Uxó (Monash University, European Languages)

Social contract theory is concerned with the legitimacy of authority over the individual and discusses to what extent, and why, individuals consent to surrender some of their freedoms in exchange for a social order from which they benefit in one way or another, and in which they feel protected. For the social contract to work, therefore, a body of laws must be created and shared by all members of a given society. But, do all members of a society enter into the social contract consensually? And how do the authorities remind citizens of their duty to abide by the social contract? Taking these issues as my starting point, in my talk I discuss the role Cuban television police shows have played in the maintenance of the Revolutionary social contract, by constantly reminding citizens of the rules they had to follow, and the penalties they would otherwise face. To that end, I analyse the television series Tras la huella, broadcast in Cuba since 2005.

Supporting material

Add supporting material (slides, programs, etc.)




September 28, 2021, 8:00pm +10:00

External Site

Who is attending?

No one has said they will attend yet.

Will you attend this event?

Let us know so we can notify you of any change of plan.

RSVPing on PhilEvents is not sufficient to register for this event.

Custom tags: