State of the (Dis-) Union Address: Ghost Research – 2012 and Beyond….

Our fieldwork, involving “ghost excavations”, will continue in earnest in 2012 (and beyond). This is critical work! So much of the past and its cultural heritage is being lost, forgotten, and suppressed by those “ghost hunts” and “ghost tours” whose sole purpose is to entertain and/or create a basis for promoting TV exposure and personal gain. The “ghost” has evolved from an “uncertainty” to a “probability” to be entertaining, and a figure that entertains! The influence of paranormal TV, and its unfortunate consequences, the “celebrity” ghost hunt, have not only suppressed serious work in the field, it has re-configured haunted space! Instead of the traditional haunted house, there is an emergence of new sites of perceived haunting characteristic of modern culture (prisons, hospitals, military sites/forts, public lodgings, even amusement parks), with new technologies (still largely unproven), and changing political landscapes (depending upon current (even past) popularity). This is not a “bad” thing in itself, but it is characterized within an atmosphere of petty in-fighting, jealousy, territoriality, hate e-mail, and egocentric marketing techniques on social networks and websites.

It’s a sad (and intolerable) state of affairs (something that must be addressed in 2012) when, in a recent book entitled Popular Ghosts: The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture (2010) edited by Maria del Pilar Blanco and Esther Peeren, we read the following:

“present-day ghost hunters seek out the ghostly in general, approaching it more like a coin collector looking to build a collection or as an extreme sport than as a quest for personal, scientific, or social enlightenment” (p. XIII).

The authenticity (and extent of the supposition) of this remark is irrelevant. What is important is that if this is the public (and academic) image of “ghost hunting”, it’s time for a RADICAL CHANGE!! Unfortunately, many of these same “ghost hunters” believe that change begins and ends with technology, framed by physical science. There are, however, other scientific realities out there, and concepts other than “paranormal”, “supernatural”, “alternative universe”, “hidden dimensions”, or similar concepts. All one has to do is READ the recent ethnographic, anthropological, and archaeological literature on theories and methodologies.

Lost in the translation of “ghost tech” are the new developments in the social sciences so relative to the development of legitimate research on interactive past presence. These include transductive ethnographies, multispecies/multisensory ethnography, the recording and documentation of “extraordinary experiences” in the anthropological literature, the ethnography of the particular, the anthropology of past soundscapes, the archaeology in and of the present, to name a few.

Our “ghost excavation” fieldwork will continue to evolve and improve, as it uses these new orientations and methodologies. We believe that the best kind of fieldwork integrates a whole range of different, relevant, and resonating methods. All of them will focus on making visible and sensorially-perceived and recorded the cultural reality of the presence of the past in the actual, through these resonating acts and techniques in the field. To do otherwise would be to effectively erase (or suppress) the materialities of everyday past presence.

As an anthropologist, I am concerned with the evidence for human (not demonic/supernatural) behaviors. As an advocate of cultural geography (and the traces of spectral geographies), I am interested in the spatial analysis of human (and past human) phenomena in specific areas during particular uncertain historical events. As a former history major, I rely on historical archives and material traces that point toward past activities. As an actor, I actively shape and construct scenarios and situations that recall past memory. And as an archaeologist, I work within sensugraphic layers that have become, in the present day, either lost, forgotten, or remain buried on the surface of contemporary reality.

In 2012, I will continue to do my humble part to legitimize this field, without altering my focus or convictions. What is seen, heard, and programmed on paranormal TV, I have done (many years) before. I don’t need to step back, and join the parade of “mimics” and copycats”. I have long since progressed beyond that “stage”, as I now occupy a limited synecdochic “stage” with past presence as my primary (and only important) audience! It is through the use of the aforementioed methodological toolkit that I will continue to explore the possibilities of uncertainty in the ruined hauntscapes of locations around the world. A “ghost excavation” will remain a place and a technique for thinking about how space, time, presence, and hauntscapes are produced and recorded.