Imperial and Critical Cosmopolitans: Screening the Multicultural City on Sherlock and Elementary

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This article argues that two modern reinterpretations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock
Holmes, that is the BBC’s Sherlock (2010–) and CBS’s Elementary (2012–), differ in their
representations of the city in ways that bear significant political ramifications. In particular, Sherlock
repeats many of the social structures of Conan Doyle’s stories that construct an imperial cosmopolitan
vision of life in London, while Elementary offers an interpretation of Holmes’s life in modern New York
with a critical cosmopolitan ethos. Building on the works of Craig Calhoun, Ann Stoler, Paul Gilroy, and
Walter Mignolo, this article argues that imperial cosmopolitanism refers to a colonial node wherein the
global circulation of goods and people leads to increases in segregation, social differentiation, and
ethnocentrism, whereas critical cosmopolitanism refers to circumstances under which the arrangement of
the global city creates increased contact between various kinds of people as well as decreased social
differentiation, which may lead to mutual understanding, solidarity, and what Lauren Berlant calls
political empathy. This article demonstrates these two divergent approaches by analysing the
programmes’ aesthetic choices, depictions of social contact between Holmes and the diverse inhabitants
of the city, and the representations of women, particularly with regard to the casting of Watson. As a
result, the article finds that Sherlock depicts London from above as a space that must be strategically
traversed to maintain social distance, while Elementary depicts New York from street level as a space
wherein Holmes learns to encounter diverse others as co-equal citizens and the audience is invited to
experience multiple perspectives. Consequently, Sherlock reiterates an imperial cosmopolitan view of
urban globalisation, while Elementary includes key preconditions for the emergence of critical
cosmopolitan mentalities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-159
JournalAlphaville Journal of Film and Screen Media
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Imperialism
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Cities
  • Urban Studies
  • Globalization
  • Crime
  • Television Studies
  • Gender Studies
  • Critical Race Studies


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