Robert Brain

Associate Professor

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

The importance of being punctual: time, trust, and virtue in Britain, c.1700-1900 (2020)

This dissertation examines the history of punctuality in Britain during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Exploring punctuality as an instance of time discipline, I challenge the historical narratives which have explained the proliferation of clock-time discipline in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century as a result of the appearance of the factory system, religion, or the advent of steam-powered railways. Following the use of the word in newspapers, magazines, and books, I trace how punctuality came to refer to being “on time” within the context of the payment of debts. Contextualizing the meaning of the word I demonstrate how the discourse of punctuality since this transformation between the end of the seventeenth century and through the nineteenth century was intimately connected with questions about the trustworthiness and honesty of others.The dissertation explores how punctuality, and its absence, was problematized in discussions of commerce, domestic management, the railway journey, and in efforts to create networks of electrically coordinated clocks. In these contexts, punctuality came to symbolize everything from honesty, piety, reliability, good management, and railway safety. In examining these meanings, I argue that punctuality was a middle-class value. It was promoted by middle-class writers for middle-class readers. Being punctual demonstrated that a person, a business, a home, a railway, or even an observatory was well-managed, disciplined, and could be relied upon. Unpunctuality and irregularity raised doubts about whether a person could pay their debts, whether a clock told the right time, and whether a train would deliver you safely to your destination.

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Indexing the indigenous: plants, peoples and empire in the long nineteenth century (2018)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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Reframing Russia in France: "popular diplomacy" and the Franco-Russian military alliance, 1871-1901 (2018)

In contrast to existing geopolitical, diplomatic and financial studies, this dissertation applies the tools of cultural history to investigate the genesis of the 1894 Franco-Russian alliance, from the French perspective. Drawing on a broad range of sources spanning the textual, audiovisual and material domains - many hitherto unexplored - it argues that after France's humiliating 1871 defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, a significant cadre of extra-governmental actors began to promote and enable the move by the early Third Republic to forge an alliance with Russia, considered by many to be an improbable ally. These actors engineered a radical reframing of attitudes towards Russia between 1871 and 1901, despite the substantial obstacles of diametrically opposed governments, entrenched stereotypes stemming from Napoléon's 1812 invasion of Russia and the Crimean War of 1854-1856, and French Catholic antipathy towards Russian repression of the uprisings in Poland in 1830 and in 1863. To forge an alliance, considerable geopolitical amnesia would be required; a new "politics of imagination" would be necessary, with a politics of persuasion to set it in place. Spurred by chronic government instability and the lack of directional foreign policy as the new Republic struggled to achieve its political equilibrium, and enabled by the evolving social, cultural and political structures that it unleashed, pro-alliance actors exemplified an engaged polity whose efforts targeted both the government and the public as they disseminated positive representations to present Russia as a worthy partner for France. Operating within the academic, literary, publishing, lobbyist, financial, entertainment, entrepreneurial and religious spheres, they worked either to counter anti-Russian tropes, to facilitate French loans to Russia as an inducement to alliance, to promote an alliance agenda, or to harness alliance popularity to their domestic social agendas. Above all, to enable the goals of "popular diplomacy" and inclusionary politics, pro-alliance elites employed a vast range of traditional and new mass media. Contributing to government decision-making and to wider public opinion, their actions demonstrated the intersection of domestic politics with foreign policy decisions, while helping to shape the political culture of the early Third Republic.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Mapping meditation : understanding meditation and adverse events through actor network theory (2023)

This thesis examines the application of Actor Network Theory (ANT) to sitting meditation practice as a complex interaction between the body, mind, and beliefs of the practitioner. To that end, the essay uses previous work done by Science and Technology Studies (STS) scholar António Carvalho. The essay begins by unpacking and criticizing Carvalho’s own ANT analysis and arguments around the way meditation practice supposedly produces nonmodern subjectivities that are beneficial for the practitioner, namely an experience of an extended sense of self, novel forms of awareness and encounters with phenomena not commonly found in daily life. The criticism homes in on issues known as the category, development and optimismproblems associated with Carvalho’s argument. To produce a picture of meditation practice that is more inclusive of unpleasant experiences with meditation, the essay makes use of research on Meditation Adverse Events (MAEs). Bringing these threads together, the thesis utilizes the work of Annemarie Mol alongside interviews found in Carvalho, Buddhist texts and sociological research. The outcome is a more robust ANT, one that accounts for the important points Carvalho emphasizes and includes important insights around how individuals relate to their bodies, minds, different experiences found in meditation practice, and the narratives they use to frame their understanding of the place of practice within their lives.

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