Image: Beyond the Bell Jar literarture workshops, Bombay Review 5 Country World Tour
My research centres around collective engagements with trauma, interpersonal harm and mental health, particularly in digital spaces. Here I focus on cultural histories of childhood and youth cultures, comedy studies, shock cultures, and cultures representations of violence.
I have also worked more broadly in arts and literary education through tutoring, academic mentoring, youth work and classroom teaching.
A small selection of my academic writing and public speaking transcripts:
[Content warning for discussions of child sexual abuse]
Chapters and Journal Articles
What does it mean to divorce childhood from its material realities, and towards a commercial product for adults to consume and criticise? Whose childhood is privileged and how did this model of humour predict later media panics in the late 2010s and early 2020s surrounding childrens media and ‘cancel culture’? And finally, how can technological imaging project and invent uniquly horrific visions of childhood media nostalgia?
The comic genre serves as an enduring testament to cultural and socialengagements with the murky borders between the acceptable and the obscene, illuminating cultural archetypes that in polite conversation are often out of sight. Here comedy can permit the joke teller to speak about unspeakable subjects,andtranscend expectations of pity and sentimentality to find humour in others suffering. But whose pain produces laughter and why?
When studying a topic as difficult as child sexual abuse (CSA) one must be mindful of the social realities that underpin it. As criminal justice professor David Wilson and BBC correspondent Ian Silverman emphasise, the study of CSA is a study of violence, and we must underline this fact throughout our research, rather than reducing scholarship on this subject to a mere intellectual exercise, or affecting a false neutrality that would not only be disingenuous but also contextually unsound. This is part of a longer-running history that conflates a refusal to endorse crimes against children with a form of conservative regressivism, and it is this history that continues to shape academic receptions to CSA-themed analyses. It is such limited, binary understandings of CSA that this paper first examines, then pushes beyond.
This is a vision of nostalgia outside of the nuclear family, begging the question of how the queer CSA survivor, the sex worker survivor and the queer child’s trauma can be addressed when queer sexuality is so often equated with the CS abuser itself.
To approach the contentious space of child sexual abuse (CSA) one must
be mindful of the political contexts that underpin such engagements. CSA is understandably a phrase that carries great weight, for all three terms in this phrase, ‘child’, ‘sexual’ and ‘abuse’ are moveable, and rooted in the ideas of acceptability in the cultures we inhabit (Hacking 1991, 1995). They exist not simply as words, but as constantly shifting manifestations of the moral sensibilities of the popular imagination.
Comedy, after all, is about power; the comic can gain power through trickery, and assert power through humour within social insider groups. But comedy is also about relinquishing power, by momentarily positioning yourself as the abused child, and disrupting power, by switching roles between adult and child. Thus, the joke teller and listener can be both survivor and abuser, because a joke can travel in multiple directions. The anti-cute Animal Comedy of Ted and Pedobear reflects the struggles of an individual growing up, deciding whether to occupy childhood, adulthood or adolescent, and struggling against the limited meanings of these age categories through play. This play, as Paul theorises, constitutes not just an individual exploration, but a larger struggle against the concept of adulthood, and the symbolic and structural powers these roles possess.
“It is said that God created man in his own image. Yet, when comparing one’s own reflection to the angelic figures of runway catwalks and movie posters, you can’t help but draw the conclusion that God is either very cruel or rather ugly. This is the dead space between ‘should look like’ and ‘actually looks like’, which can be identified in the profound sense of loss that undercuts the act of getting dressed. It is the gap between the item we want (the designer dress) and the item we can afford (the high street knock off), the physical body (how we are perceived) and the dream body (how we wish we were perceived), the clothes on the hanger and the clothes on the ‘ordinary’ person, the clothes on the ‘ordinary’ person and the clothes on the model.”
One of the reason I became drawn to humor was through the act of nervous laughter, I effectively got ‘told off’ in therapy as I nervously laughed when describing an traumatic event. I was told that I was not taking my childhood sexual abuse background seriously enough! Like what the fuck does that mean? What’s the correct way of dealing with such a difficult thing?I love comedy and humour because I hate the politics of respectability that tells us there’s one ‘right’ way, one ‘respectable’ way to address such a deeply personal issue.
Typography and Trauma: Conversations on Doll Hospital Journal, Writefest 2017
In many ways capitalism has not just simply worsened mental health but created a new model of mental suffering. This applies to both employment and unemployment, so much of the groundwork for Doll Hospital was created when I was unemployed so the latter is particularly on my mind. You only need to look at the relationship between long term unemployment and suicide to realise the reality of this.
However, when we talk about capitalism we need to open up our understanding of oppression to consider not just mental illness, but other experiences impacted by ableism such as chronic illness and physical and developmental disability.
Capitalism is designed for the able bodied and able minded but considering poor working conditions even if a person enters in this ‘abled’ state, in all reality they are not going to exit it like this, poor working conditions are destructive both physically and mentally.
-Is Mental Health Political? A Panel Discussion, London College of Fashion
“The sensational story telling of xoJane, and the overwhelming disdain for the internet model of ‘oversharing’ one’s troubles, so often dismissed as a reflection of everything that is ‘wrong’ with the millennial generation, can easily cloud critical thought on this complex subject, provoking knee jerk reactions of outrage and disgust. However, I believe if we closely examine the historical context in which these digital stories are situated, focusing particularly on the enduring capitalist interest in the survivor’s story, and the construction of ‘authentic’ suffering, we can truly unpack why we continue to circle around these stories of abuse and use this knowledge to create a kinder space of creativity for survivors to navigate their narratives.”
Bath Spa Conference Paper
“To write about mental health and trauma is to write from a place of uncertainty, uncertainty that we ‘should’ be talking about something so stigmatized in the first place, uncertainty of what the consequences will be of speaking this struggle into a reality beyond ourselves, uncertainty that our experience is ‘bad’ enough to merit documenting at all, uncertainity that we’re the ‘right’ person to be writing about this, if we should perhaps wait for someone smarter, more established to take the mic and finally, in a culture of gaslighting towards trauma survivors and the mentally ill, uncertainty that what we so desperately need to speak about even happened in the first place.”
Beyond the Bell Jar, Bombay Review 5 Country World Tour
“Because I guess what all this comes down to is that to speak of your struggles is not a privilege; it is a right. We need to challenge the idea that in order to speak authoritatively on ‘mental health’ you need to be university educated, middle class and white. In opening up the borders of who can speak, and in what way, I believe we can foster more inclusive, honest, conversations for women of colour, and, yes, white women too. Because we can’t go on like this. We need to do better.”
Feminism in Theory and Action, Wadham College Oxford