“Follow the Evidence”?Methods of Detection in American TV Detective Drama

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Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Original languageEnglish
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Award date30 Oct 2013
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Abstract

This thesis deals with methods of detection i.e. the mode of investigation employed to catch a criminal in American detective dramas on television. It divides methods of detection into the categories of ‘rational-scientific’ and ‘irrational-subjective’. ‘Rational-scientific’ methods of detection are linked to the literary tradition of Golden Age fiction and suggest an analytical distance to the crime. ‘Irrational-subjective’ methods are linked to a hard-boiled tradition and suggest (often emotional) ‘closeness’ to the victim, suspects or witnesses. Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, John Fiske and Jason Mittell, this thesis views genre as discourse. As such, television genre is viewed as always changing and intersecting with a variety of other discourses, for example, representing social and political debates, shifts within the television industry and mirroring ideologies of ‘truth-finding’. It analyses methods of detection as a discourse internal to the genre, as a genre convention, as well as external to the genre i.e. as relating to discourses regarding social, political and industrial developments. It also explores how methods of detection, as an expression of ideologies of ‘truth-finding’, reveal how a specific series may be positioned in relationship to modern post-Enlightenment and postmodern discourses. A number of texts from different historical moments (Dragnet [NBC, 1951-1959], Quincy, M.E. [NBC, 1976-1983], CSI: Crime Scene Investigation [CBS, 2000- ], Hill Street Blues [NBC, 1981-1987], Twin Peaks [ABC, 1990-1991] and The Shield [fX, 2002-2008]) are analysed as examples of how individual genre texts represent these shifts in attitudes towards ‘truth-finding’. In a final step, this thesis analyses The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008) and Dexter (Showtime, 2006- ) as dramas that represent a more recent shift in the representation of ideologies of ‘truth-finding’ that may formulate ‘alternative’ methods of detection and a possible epistemological shift in postmodern culture