Re-Constructing a Haunted Space
How should we explore and document the past at a haunted location? How can we construct knowledge from ephemeral and trace presences? We must begin with practices that have meaning in the past, not popularity in the present! We must appreciate (and understand) that some remains of the past that manifest do form part of a social world that is still present, and not “paranormal”!
We must avoid any strict conception as to what type of fieldwork this should (or should not) be. We must, though, involve ourselves with social re-construction in these spaces, putting manifestations into past (not present) cultural context. We must devise means and tools which enable us to be both sensitive to a past sociability, and be ethical in the process.
By definition, the past cannot be present. That it is (and we see it all around us in architecture, music, dress, etc.) does not make its presence something one considers as “paranormal”. A past has been completed, but other vestiges, traces, residuals, and remains of particular (some biographical) elements of the past still “live on” today. This existence of past presence is not an alternative or parallel universe. It is reality, albeit contemporary archaeological reality (“ruins”) in some instances.
Ghost research, like archaeology, must not be mere observational work (“ruined vistas”), or an observation of what is “excavated”. Likewise, in ghost research, it is not merely the observation of what the instruments are measuring, the monitor is displaying, or the audio is recording (many times in absencia). It must become, first, a participatory practice. We must participate to observe what may be left of the past in particular spaces.
This participatory stance, however, must not be reduced to the status of entertainment, or as a spectacle of excess (an “extreme paranormal” stance). It must be, and remain, contextual, a performance that is rooted to an event (or activity) in the past; or, to a particular biographical past of a known individual, one known to have occupied that “haunted” space (or produced some act there). This participatory-ethnographic trope is the basic premise of a “ghost excavation”. It is how we begin our re-construction of haunted space.