The anatomy of the crime scene: On narrative and performative practices in the investigation of crime's place and action

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


Kjetil Sandvik

Crime scenes are constituted by a combination of a plot and a place. The crime scene is a place which has been in a certain state of transformation at a certain moment in time, the moment at which the place constituted the scene for some kind of criminal activity. As such the place has been encoded in the way that the certain actions and events which have taken place have left a variety of marks and traces which may be read and interpreted. Traces of blood, nails, hair constitutes (DNA)codes which can be decrypted and deciphered, in the same way as traces of gun powder, bullet holes, physical damage are signs to be read and interpreted. Thus the place carries a plot (a narrative) which at first is hidden and scattered and has to be revealed and pieced together through a process of investigation and exploration with the aid of different forensic methods, eyewitnesses and so on; - through reading and interpretation. During her investigation the detective's ability to make logical reasoning and deductive thinking as well as to make use of her imagination is crucial to how the crime scene is first deconstructed and then reconstructed as a setting for the story (that is the actions of crime). By decoding this reconstructed place the story itself is also reconstructed: the crime is being solved, the murderer revealed.

                      An important element in this narrative and performative practise is the use of simulation as a storytelling device. Simulation is a well-known method in investigation of crime scenes in order to reconstruct how the actual crime may have taken place. The profiling expert of the investigation team places herself in the role of the criminal, trying to gain insight into the criminal's psychology, way of thinking and reasoning and so on (like detective Lacour does in the Danish TV series Unit One (Rejseholdet). Using simulation as a narrative and peformative practise implies that the investigators play the roles of potential murderers, helpers, victims, witnesses in order to reconstruct the chain of events (the crime) in time and space.

                      This paper analyses a selection of crime fiction TV series in order to demonstrate how crime scenes in these series are reconstructed and interpreted by the investigators through narrative and performative practises through which a specific virtual (in the sense of potential or possible) story space and a specific plot is being simulated. The selected series range from more colourful and para-psychological based methods of investigation in series such as The Profiler and Medium to more realistic practises such as those found in series like Unit One and CSI. This analysis will be broadened by applying knowledge about how real-life crime scene investigations are carried out by the real ‘unit one' of the Danish police (Rigspolitiets Kriminaltekniske Center) in order to reveal some major differences compared to crime fiction such as the fact that police detectives are not admitted entrance to the crime scene before the technicians have concluded their work collecting, preserving and cataloguing various traces like fingerprints, bloodstains and so on. But the analysis will also show similarities between real-life and fictional crime scene investigations: also in real-life practices reconstruction and interpretation of the crime scene is conducted by investigators (crime scene coordinators) who's task it is to decide how the investigation should be carried out and which is best described as a narrative practice; a systematic - and expertise based - work of imagination.

Original languageEnglish
Publication date2009
Publication statusPublished - 2009
EventMotion and Emotion within Place - Århus, Denmark
Duration: 7 Oct 20098 Oct 2009


ConferenceMotion and Emotion within Place

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