Theses Doctoral

Alternative Presence: the Cultural Meaning of Heterodox Sciences in Nineteenth-Century Spain

Ferrer, Marta

This dissertation examines the cultural role of three controversial yet popular heterodox sciences of nineteenth century Spain: phrenology; animal magnetism and hypnosis; and spiritualism or spiritism. It assesses the relationship between the development of phrenology and early Catalanism, the connection of animal magnetism and hypnosis to both Catholicism and emergent medical discourse, and the flourishing of spiritism in the context of the production of a national genealogy. The project draws on myriad sources like literary works, daily newspapers, specialized journals, dissemination pamphlets, and case histories, to argue that these heterodox sciences were an integral part of the social and cultural history of the nineteenth century. It rethinks not just the relationship between science and cultural production that scholars like James Secord, Gillian Beer, and others have studied but also what we understand as nineteenth-century scientific heterodoxies, seeking to understand them as a broad socio-cultural phenomenon in the way they helped construct cultural practices of the time. Alternative Presence contends that phrenology, animal magnetism and hypnosis, and spiritism expanded rhizomatically away from the confines of canonical institutions and yet contributed to early political regionalism, practices of medical and religious healing, and national historiography. To study such mediations, I look both at these sciences’ main actors — heterogeneous individuals and groups who disseminated them — and at a series of narrative and expressive strategies visible in the discourse through which they flourished. As the term “science” evolved and gained social authority through the appearance of increasingly demarcated fields of expertise, heterodox sciences’ tessellated networks lost ground and were ultimately relegated to the sphere of pseudoscience or popular belief. However, during their lifetime they served to generate alternative ideas of the subject and the nation. Their crucial role in the nineteenth-century Spanish cultural field has been ripe for rediscovery, and this dissertation probes their imbrication with mainstream ways of imagining the paths to modernity.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Rios-Font, Wadda
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 1, 2021