27. Ghosts as ethnographic category

Salvatore Poier, University of Pittsburgh
Heath Cabot, University of Bergen and University of Pittsburgh

From ghosting a date, to noticing the past tram line now built over by other
developments (“scarchitecture” or ghost architecture), ghosts surround us
constantly. We could even say that the living are anomalies in the much more
populous world of ghosts. This panel asks participants to actively engage in
the ghost-making, ghost-hunting, ghost-detecting activities of the
ethnographer. We want to hear ghost stories: whether they are about friends
beyond the veil, ghosts who live among us, everyday ghostly encounters – or
haunting, disorientation, and the uncanny.

Ethnographic encounters with the dead and with ectoplasmic presences have
a long-standing tradition, especially in anthropology. They speak to the
possibilities of others “among us” – as well the fascination with (and
exoticization of) beliefs of ethnographic “others.” Yet, ghosts as theoretical
categories have been extremely productive in enabling more complex
analyses of reality: Ghosts not as ectoplasms but as perceived presences that
are not completely gone, not completely forgotten, not completely conciliated
with—nor completely complete either (see Gordon 2008). Ethnographers have
explored ghosts that emerge through ruptures in relationships with the past,
present, and future (Bryant 2016; Stoetzer 2018); hauntings that shape the
self and the psyche (Good 2019); the specters of changing political economic
relations (Klima 2009); political ghosts (Molé Liston and Mahmud 2021); and
the traces that haunt language, communities, and representations (see
Derrida 1981). Still, despite this rich engagement with ghost-like theoretical
frames, ghosts are not “just” theoretical tools. We hypothesize that we all have
our ghosts. How do they animate our worlds and our work?

What does it mean, then, to engage with ghosts as both a theoretical and
ethnographic category?
The panel organizers are, and have been, in different ways (Cabot 2016;
Poier 2022) fascinated by the weight of the weightlessness of those social
situations, physical elements, or personal fantasies that perhaps “shouldn’t
be” that important, but which pull our minds to those things that perhaps could
have been, but are not; or things that are, but which we lack the sensorial and
representational tools to account for. A ghost is the impalpable presence of
something absent, yet which is still (or already) among us. Its un-presence is
even more effective than its actual presence.

Let’s take part in some eth-ghost-graphy. Tell us about your ghosts.

What is a ghost for you and those with whom you do research? What kinds of
ghosts animate your research and writing? How do you read and write those
ghosts? Note: “ghost” here is deliberately open-ended so as to, hopefully,
generate a more open conversation.

Ghosts, haunting, representation, absence, presence, pasts, futures

Bryant, Rebecca. 2016. On critical times: return, repetition, and the uncanny
present.” History and Anthropology 27(1): 19-31.

Cabot, Heath. 2016. “‘Refugee Voices:’ Tragedy, Ghosts, and the Anthropology of
Not Knowing.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 45 (6), 645-672

Derrida, Jacques.1981. Dissemination. University of Chicago Press.
Gordon, Avery F. 2008. Ghostly matters: Haunting and the sociological imagination.
U of Minnesota Press.

Good, Byron J. “Hauntology: Theorizing the spectral in psychological
anthropology.” Ethos 47(4) (2019): 411-426.

Klima, Alan. 2009. Ghosts and Numbers (film).

Molé Liston and Lilith Mahmud, panel: “Risk and Political Hauntings in Europe,”
Council for European Studies (CES) 2021.

Poier, Salvatore. Fantasmi di Pittsburgh. Forthcoming, 2023.

Stoetzer, Bettina. 2018. “Ruderal ecologies: Rethinking nature, migration, and the
urban landscape in Berlin.” Cultural Anthropology 33.2: 295-323.

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