UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reimagining the poltergeist in twentieth-century America and Britain Laursen, Christopher


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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