DETECt in 221B magazine
DETECt in 221B magazine
A pic from DETECt meetings
“Our basic intention is to understand how crime narratives tap into this local and transnational comprehension of Europe as a complex and multifaceted continent”
What does DETECt aim at by researching the contemporary history of crime genre in Europe? How have crime narratives contributed to the formation of a European identity?
In August 2019, Kim Toft Hansen from the Aalborg University team was interviewed by the Turkish magazine 221B about the DETECt project.
We are delighted to publish the full English version of the interview.
Can you explain to our readers what DETECt is and how the idea of developing such a research project came to be?
DETECt is a three-year Horizon 2020 research project running until 2021. The complete title of the project is “Detecting Transcultural Identity in Popular European Crime Narratives”. Essentially, the project deals with the notion of Europe seen through the lenses of crime narratives in literature, film and television.
The project idea originates from Bologna University, which is the principal investigator in the project, but it also builds heavily on several prior research projects around Europe that have dealt with issues related to the popularity of crime narratives. Aalborg University, where I’m seated, is one out of 18 partners in the research consortium, which includes several European universities and a number of external partners such as libraries and broadcasters.
The overall intention is to understand how Europe is perceived in four communicative stages, i.e. production, representation, distribution and reception. I am the project leader of a subproject on “Creative Industries” that deals with producing crime narratives for local and international audiences. This activity is also based my earlier research into crime narratives, which has included a project on locations, places and urban/rural issues in Nordic television crime stories.
What does DETECt investigate and examine?
For decades, crime narratives have been a hugely successful genre in Europe – as almost anywhere else in the world. There seems to be a nearly universal appeal of the genre. Even if that is the case, some titles stay within the confines of local/national audiences, while other titles travel very well transnationally. In DETECt, we’re very much interested in both aspects of crime narratives, since this tells a lot about how the transnational conception of Europe really works: some aspects of European identities stay fairly local, while other aspects work as a transnational mindset. With this in mind, our basic intention is to understand how crime narratives tap into this local and transnational comprehension of Europe as a complex and multifaceted continent.
For this specific reason locations, place branding, and European urbanism are different prevalent issues in the project. Across the different work sections, space/place and geography are very important ways to understand not just how crime narratives represent local identities on a transnational scale, but also how producing and distributing crime narratives at root deals with spatial issues. For instance, this become prevalent in HBO’s Eastern European crime productions as well as the different remakes of the successful Swedish-Danish format The Bridge. Through places, cities and urban/rural negotiations, we detect insightful debates about issues tied to localized dramas for a transnational audience.
What does DETECt aim at by researching the contemporary history of crime genre in Europe?
Roughly speaking, the ‘engine room’ of DETECt consists of two, perhaps three aspects of research and communication.
Firstly, this is of course a research project in a very traditional sense of doing media and communication research: we’re interested in three basic levels of communication, i.e. the sender, the message, and the receiver. However, the originality of DETECt lies with the scope or the reach of the project. With university institutions representing different geographical areas of Europe, research into crime narratives have never before been done on such an international scale. We intend to understand the development of the genre since 1989 (a year when Europe was significantly disrupted by the fall of the Berlin wall) and gain an insight into how crime narratives have contributed to a transnational awareness of European identities.
Secondly, DETECt also contains a conspicuous communication strategy, which includes communicating to the broader European audiences of crime fiction through different methods, including a website platform, which will be launched at our EURONOIR conference in Aalborg, Denmark, in late September. Besides the platform, we’re also establishing a European learning community alongside the research profile, which includes teaching transcultural European identities through crime narratives at local universities and through online learning activities. One of the main international contributions from DETECt will be a MOOC open for everybody.
Lastly, you may say that DETECt also have different European stakeholders as a target group. As I said earlier, external business partners have been integrated into the research consortium, and for those we intend to answer some of the most prevalent questions about how crime narratives may be a stimulus for transcultural exchange. Ambitiously, we aim at helping stakeholders such as production companies and broadcasters understand how to reach broader audiences through crime narratives. Besides this, our main output from research will also be reports for the European Commission, and here of course we aim at having an impact on how crime narratives call attention to a negotiation of different ways of viewing the continent.
In choosing the contemporary history of crime narratives, it leaves us with an opportunity to call attention to significant cultural issues represented in and debated through a highly socially sensitive genre. This does not mean that our interest does not lie with historical matters before 1989, since contemporary historical crime narratives also, to a very momentous degree, parlay the historical consciousness of contemporary Europe.
How have crime narratives contributed to the formation of a European identity?
Just to make sure, DETECt does not necessarily claim that there is such a thing as ‘a European identity’, i.e. only one identity. For that reason, we don’t argue that crime narratives contribute to the formation of one specific European identity. Cautiously, we’re treading an ideological path that is very difficult the understand, let alone research.
Instead, we’re focusing on how crime narratives may contribute to an understanding of what we call ‘transcultural European identity’. Rather than claiming that Europe consists of one monolithic identity, we assert that crime narratives actually quite clearly demonstrate that there are different identities across Europe and parts of these identities may have a transcultural reach, meaning that even if there are significant differences across the continent, Europe may share a number of salient or even tacit reference points – and one of these reference points may be popular crime narratives.
Let me give you an example: deeply imbedded in the generic confines of crime narratives, there seems to be an overall conception of what is good and what is bad. The notion of good and bad may, of course, vary – it really varies a lot even within a national culture, including very small nations like Denmark where I’m located. However, the implied ethics in many crime narratives entails that crimes and indeed murders need to be investigated, because murder is bad and truth is good. For that reason, I once claimed that the crime genre is ‘the last good genre’, since it clings to values of truth and right and wrong in a late modern world where identities and truths seems to be up for grabs. This indicates that the crime genre may have a head start in understanding what may be a broader transcultural understanding of truth and morals.
I may be able to put it in a less abstract sense: crime narratives are possibly the most popular genre across the continent. Crime fiction is often translated and distributed to many countries, while television crime narratives are not only widely distributed, challenging the widespread conception that audiences normally stick to what is within their geographical and cultural proximity. Danish DR, for instance, produced the hugely popular television crime show The Killing, which was distributed all over the world and remade into both an American version and a Turkish version, while also adapted into a British novel. Such an example indicates that there is a transcultural interest in popular crime narratives that may, in the end, deal with the simple fact that people across cultures have a lot in common.
With that being said, there are of course a number of title that attempt to produce European connectivity much more top-down. In general, European financial support schemes have become a conspicuous part of financing production and distribution of crime narratives, which signposts an ideological interest in specifically producing a continental identity. For that reason there has been an increasing tendency towards co-producing film and television crime stories, even between cultures that have no history of co-producing, e.g. the Romanian-German crime drama Hackerville or the Swedish-French crime drama Midnight Sun. The most noteworthy attempt to co-produce a European identity through crime drama has been the TV series The Team, which includes quite a number of European co-producers and has been dubbed ‘the European song contest of crime narratives’. Even American producers have shown an interest in ‘tapping into’ this idea of a transcultural European identity in the three season television show Crossing Lines, co-produced with European players too.
However, in my view crime narratives across Europe stick to three levels of reach: firstly, many narratives do not reach audiences outside the local/national boundaries; secondly, an increasing number of titles re-produce regional identities across Europe, such as the Mediterranean, the Eastern or the Nordic region; thirdly, only a few titles, compared to how much crime narratives there is produced, reach an international level of attention. Essentially, this tells a lot about how identities are negotiated on a local, regional and international level at once. This is also quite obvious if we confront crime narratives as a cultural output model for identity negotiation.
Who can contribute in this project? And how can they do that?
It is actually possible to contribute and interact with DETECt in quite a number of ways. As indicated earlier, we’re setting up a European learning community, which will be open for anyone who wishes to participate. The platform for the community is not ready yet, but the beta version of it will be presented during the fall. Stay tuned on our website or on social media to get the latest new on this.
DETECt has also set up two networks, one for researchers and one for stakeholders. The research network already consists of researchers and other research projects around the world. We’re very open to involving any researcher with a specific interest in the topics touched upon by DETECt. In order to join the research network, all you really need to do is get in touch with someone from the project.
The stakeholder network consists of different external parties that have an interest in the DETECt research activities. This network consists of producers, broadcasters, distributors, opinion formers and journalistic media. We’re very interested in hearing from anyone who may something to say about European crime narratives as well as anyone who wishes to join this stakeholder network. For both the research and the stakeholder network, there is an official procedure to go through, which is due to legal restraints around confidentiality within the project, though this is quite normal for large projects like these.
Lastly, during the time span of DETECt we’ll have a number of open activities, including film screenings around Europe and international conferences. Our next big event is our EURONOIR conference in Aalborg this fall, while in 2021 we’ll close off the project with a large conference in Rome. All you really need to do is visit our communication on the website and on social media, which is our basic news room. Seek us out and drop a like, and you’ll get all our news.
How do you plan to use the knowledge acquired from this research project?
I guess that a few answers for this question are entailed in my earlier response: essentially, we hope to leave a mark on learners across Europe, including university students and researchers of crime narratives. We also have obligations to communicate our results to the wider European community, which is a built-in part of conducting research financed by the European Union. This is actually both a challenging task and, at the same time, one the most interesting ones, since this really gives us an opportunity to share our knowledge with people that are not normally acquainted with research output models. Lastly, we are likewise very ambitious in aiming for an impact on how crime narratives can be produced, financed and shared across cultural boundaries. In this way, we really have a tripartite impact strategy that includes European learners, European audiences and European decision makers.
Can you share with us some of the insights required throughout this research project? Maybe, in line with the subject matter of our issue, can you give us a brief description about the role of European setting in crime fiction?
As indicated earlier, the DETECt research profile includes a very prominent position regarding the spatiality of crime narratives. Where are the narratives produced? Which locations are used? What’s the settings of the narratives? What are the local and international impact of the use of specific locations and settings around Europe? How are places, cities and geographical areas branded on the continent through crime narratives? And how does such strategies reflect developments within the formation of various European and transcultural identities? In other words, the places of crime narratives really permeate the project in all its visions and perspectives.
This includes issues of urbanism too. Quite literally, you may say that ‘without cities there would be no crime narratives’. This is, of course, to some extend an exaggeration, since we have also seen the steady rise of rural crime narratives around Europe. However, it would impossible to conceive of Sherlock Holmes without London, Jules Maigret or C. Auguste Dupin without Paris, Philip Marlowe without Los Angeles, Zsigmond Gordon without Budapest, Inspector Morse without Oxford, Martin Beck without Stockholm, Bernie Gunther without Berlin – and the list goes on and could include the many crime narratives that take place in Istanbul too. Some even go as far as to claim that cities become characters as much as the central detectives frame the scope of the narratives.
For this reason, much of our activities in DETECt deal with the role of locations, places and cities in crime narratives. Our first research report deals with location strategies and place branding, while places and locations is a very important aspect of the EURONOIR conference later on this year. The local tourist agency in the Aarhus, Denmark, is also an official partner for DETECt, which gives us an opportunity to also include tourism perspectives on crime narratives. At the conference, the Ian Rankin app for Edinburgh will be presented, while one of the main outputs of DETECt – a local crime mobile app presenting local crime stories located in the city – will be presented in Aarhus. This app is a new format usable for smartphone technology, and developing this format for smartphone use gives us an opportunity to use the same format for many different cities around Europe. Besides this, at the DETECt portal – our main interface with the learning community – we have already started mapping Europe through crime narratives, i.e. actual maps of Europe with attention to different topics. This includes a map of crime series with special attention towards the main city locations.
Altogether, conducting a research project on specifically European crime narratives entails a natural attention towards locations and urbanism, since Europe after all is a geographical entity consisting of many cities used as prolific settings for telling stories about crime.
“Ambitiously, we aim at helping stakeholders such as production companies and broadcasters understand how to reach broader audiences through crime narratives.”