Joy Dixon

Associate Professor

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2019)
Reimagining the poltergeist in twentieth-century America and Britain (2016)

In creating the psychokinesis hypothesis, twentieth-century American and British psychical researchers, psychoanalysts, and parapsychologists moved the poltergeist away from centuries of religious and spiritual attribution – that it was actions of unseen spirits of the dead, elementals, or demonic forces – into the realm of scientific boundary-work that explored unseen worlds: the human mind, consciousness, and invisible forces and organisms. Boundary-work involved a process of establishing and sustaining ideas that could be presented to the larger scientific community. Poltergeist researchers viewed themselves as pioneers who were expanding scientific knowledge, with a goal of establishing epistemic authority on the phenomenon. While spiritual attributions remained popular, as did suspicions of deceptive behaviour, poltergeist researchers managed to establish the psychokinesis hypothesis as a significant, well-known potential explanation for the poltergeist – one that suggested the human mind could affect the material environment. I argue that collaborative knowledge-making between researchers and the people who directly experienced poltergeist manifestations enabled the psychokinesis hypothesis. To this day, no one is certain what causes the poltergeist phenomenon, and very few individuals actively study it first-hand. The hypothesis was as much a mischievous force in the transformative dynamics of twentieth-century American and British culture and science as the poltergeist itself was in disrupting individual lives.

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Evangelicalism and the making of same-sex desire : the life and writings of Constance Maynard (1849-1935) (2011)

Although a devout Evangelical Anglican, living in an era that largely pre-dated the dissemination of sexological discourses of female same-sex desire, Constance Maynard, the prominent Victorian feminist and educational reformer, pursued a series of same-sex relationships. Religion is often understood to exercise a repressive influence on sexual desire. This study, however, takes as its starting point the historian of sexuality Michel Foucault’s contention that sexual regulation produces desire rather than repressing it. It charts the role of Evangelical discourse – both regulatory and non-regulatory – in the structuring of Maynard’s dissident sexual subjectivity. Arguing that sexuality, and female homoeroticism in particular, is crucial to an understanding of turn-of-the-century British culture, this dissertation explores transitions in Maynard’s same-sex desire as they were occasioned by shifts in her religious subjectivity, examines the role of other cultural discourses in precipitating changes in her religious beliefs, and delineates the implications of transitions in the relationship between Evangelicalism and these other discourses for turn-of-the-century British society.A central focus of this dissertation is the discourse of modernity. Modernity is often represented as the product of the triumph of science, reason, and progress over an out-dated, irrational, repressive religion. This dichotomy is a gendered one; masculinity is often aligned with the former terms and femininity with the latter. Dominant narratives of modernity also fail to take into account the indebtedness of the latter to imperialism. The making of Maynard’s same-sex desire disrupts the science/religion, masculine/feminine, and metropole/colony binaries that inform narratives of modernity. Maynard’s sexual subjectivity and her modernizing sexual discourse were the products of Evangelicalism in dynamic interaction with, rather than in opposition to, the scientific discourses of natural theology, evolution, eugenics, and psychoanalysis. The constitution and contestation of Maynard’s religio-scientific imperialist discourse in her same-sex relationships demonstrates the role of imperialism in the production of modern sexuality. Discourses of modern sexuality feature prominently in the making of contemporary geopolitical divides. To move beyond these divides it is necessary to recognize the complex interactions between religion and science that have produced modern western sexuality, and to situate its production in the context of the uneven relationship between metropole and colony.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Out of sight, out of mind : the visual archive of asylum artist-patient William Bartholomew, 1853-1877 (2018)

This paper examines the visual archive of the patient-artist William Bartholomew during his care at the Royal Crichton Institution and Southern Counties Asylum in Scotland during the middle of the nineteenth century. The asylums were overseen by Medical Superintendent W.A.F. Browne who was guided by contemporary practices of “moral therapy” and had a particular interest in art practice as part of that therapy. In this project I will examine the relationship between Bartholomew, the written record, art production, and Browne’s care, from multiple perspectives around the theme of inside and outside-ness. I situate my approach in conversation with Roy Porter’s appeal for an analysis of the two-way encounter between doctor and patient in the history of medicine. I argue that examples of patient experience and patient produced sources can inform historical understandings of treatment practices and also create opportunities for the archive and the ethics of medical case records to be visible in new ways. Bartholomew’s art reveals the negotiation between the internal and external in Browne’s phrenological conceptualization of moral therapy; this was a view that prioritized engagement between the inner mind and the outside world through art. Furthermore, in depicting his fellow patients, I argue that we can see Bartholomew’s relationship to his subjects shift as he took on a commission from Browne to create educational physiognomic images. These works required the negotiation of a visual language that drew connections between the inner moral and mental state and the external characteristics of the face. Bartholomew’s collection of images therefore offers a complicated instance of the patient’s gaze, which pushes against the rigidity of medical authority in an effort to situate the patient more clearly in Porter’s two-way encounter.

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Uri Geller and the reception of parapsychology in the 1970s (2018)

This paper investigates the controversy following the publication of work by scientistsworking at the Stanford Research Institute that claimed to show that the extraordinary mentalpowers of 1970s super psychic Uri Geller were real. The thesis argues that the controversyaround Geller represented a shift in how skeptical scientists treated parapsychology. Insteadof engaging with parapsychology and treating it as an incipient, if unpromising scientificdiscipline, which had been the norm since the pioneering work of J.B. Rhine in the 1930s,parapsychology's critics portrayed the discipline as a pseudoscience, little more than anattempt by credulous scientists to confirm their superstitious belief in occult psychic powers.The controversy around Geller also led to the creation of The Committee for the ScientificInvestigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), one of the first skeptical organizationsspecializing in investigating supposed instances of paranormal phenomena.I argue that the shift in critics' attitudes and the creation of CSICOP were partially dueto a fear among some scientists and their supporters that the scientific work on Geller wouldlend legitimacy to the "Occult Revival"—a term used to describe rising popular interest in theoccult, astrology and psychic abilities in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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"Who wants tradition in the Beatle generation?" : Ravi Shankar, the Indian press, and the cultural politics of reception, 1966-68 (2013)

During the 1960s, the new exposure of Hindustani classical music in Europe and America, and the increasing popularity of Ravi Shankar's music within the Western counter-culture was primarily inspired by the Indian sitarist's friendship with Beatles guitarist George Harrison. Aside from resulting in a much larger audience for Hindustani classical music in the West, this interaction also provoked criticism and scrutiny in Shankar's native India. In early 1968, the English-language newspaper coverage in India spanning the Beatles visit, and Ravi Shankar's return to his home country offered a valuable portrait of India in a moment of spiritual and cultural flux. Upon his return to Indian in 1968 following an extended stay in Europe and America, Ravi Shankar found himself at the centre of a debate concerning the rightful place of "tradition" in Hindustani classical music, and Indian culture more generally, with cultural critics engaged in a debate around the influence of the West in a rapidly modernizing nation. The self-appointed guardians of "tradition" associated with Hindustani classical music expressed a desire to keep the art form "pure" in the context of the Beatles and the Western counter-culture's new appreciation for, and consumption of the music as promoted by Ravi Shankar. At the same time, Indian intellectuals critical of the traditionalist viewpoint celebrated the Western counter-culture's embrace of Ravi Shankar as an artistically productive outcome of the globalization of Indian culture. This controversy demonstrates that in a nation in which colonialism was a fresh memory, some felt it essential to protect what was imagined as a purely indigenous tradition against the threat of new Western influence. Indians engaged in this debate were forced to negotiate new trends in global information flows with the ripple effects of the 1960s socio-cultural revolution in the West, along with ancient customs and venerated traditions that supported the narratives upon which the nation was founded.

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Othering France : depictions of French politics in Punch, 1848-1851 (2012)

This thesis examines caricatures of French politics in the British cartoon periodical Punch between the years 1848 and 1851. I argue that although the French “Other” was seen by Britons in the eighteenth century as a military danger, by the 1848 revolution it had been transformed into a dystopian analogue of Great Britain’s own constitutional achievements. Punch contributes to the British nation-building project by juxtaposing the supposed failures of the French liberal movement, with the supposed successes of British government. Its cartoons depict French constitutionalism in the era as violent and radical, constantly threatened by the forces of revolutionary turmoil on the one hand, and Bonapartist autocracy on the other. Moreover, Punch depicts these problems as self-inflicted; when given the choice between disorder and dictatorship, Frenchmen chose the latter.

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