Shannon Ward takes the page 99 test

My dissertation, Learning Language, Transforming Knowledge: Language Socialization in Amdo, Tibet, examines young children’s social and linguistic development in China’s western borderlands. Based on fifteen months of language socialization research with infants and children aged three months to seven years old, Learning Language, Transforming Knowledge demonstrates the persistence of place-based linguistic diversity amidst rapid urbanization and the associated rise of standard language ideologies.

My dissertation “passes” Ford Madox Ford’s test because the ethnographic examples described on page 99 situate my research within broader anthropological discussions about cultural reproduction amidst linguistic change. In Amdo, kinship relationships and spiritual connections to the homeland constitute diverse mother tongues as indexes of place-based belonging. Despite an overt ideological emphasis on language standardization in greater Tibet and western China, Amdo children continue to acquire their family’s mother tongue (Tib. yul skad) as their first language.

Page ninety-nine summarizes place-making practices in young children’s play. These play routines emplace the yul skad in the village homeland and, at the same time, allow children to innovate in the yul skad. From the time they are mobile, children spend their days in groups of related peers, moving throughout the expanded space of the village. Children use movement alongside verbal interaction to embody a form of place-based belonging that is simultaneously social and spiritual. For example, in the peer group, “children invoke skora, or circular movement, in multiple spatial frameworks. Daily play at the mani khang [local temple]…unfolds alongside adults’ circumambulation…While adults perform skora, children mirror their movements through games, including hide and seek (Amdo: bi-ʱtsʰe, [a code-mixed word whose first syllable is borrowed] from the Chinese verb 蔽 [bi, ‘to conceal’])” (Ward 2019: 99). Through games such as bi-ʱtsʰe, children solidify their peer relationships by iconically reproducing spiritual practices linked to the village homeland. At the same time, they use their multilingual verbal repertoires to develop unique ways of speaking among the village peer group. Through this play routine, children therefore reconstitute affective ties between the mother tongue, the kin-based peer group, and the spiritual center of the village homeland.

Shannon Mary Ward. 2019. Learning Language, Transforming Knowledge: Language Socialization in Amdo, Tibet. New York University, Phd.

Guilherme Fians takes the Page 99 test

On page 99 of my dissertation, the reader finds themself in the middle of an ethnographic description of a heated political debate held during the 101st Universal Congress of Esperanto, in Nitra (Slovakia) in 2016. In this debate, members of the World Non-National Esperanto Association were reflecting on the aims of their activism: should this association use Esperanto to create inclusive, internationalist conversation spaces where people from different national and linguistic backgrounds could gather and meet halfway by speaking a non-national, non-ethnic language? Or should they adopt a more combative stance and use Esperanto as an anti-nationalist tool to fight the exclusionary and xenophobic aspects of nationalism?

fian.photo

Entrance of the congress venue, the Slovak University of Agriculture, where the 101st Universal Congress of Esperanto took place. The Esperanto flag between the Slovakian and EU flags helps to convey the internationalist atmosphere at stake in the Esperanto gathering [Photo: Guilherme Fians].

While page 99 brings us to a brief diversion to Slovakia, my doctoral fieldwork – which placed my dissertation as the first extensive ethnographic study of Esperanto speakers and activists – was carried out mostly in France.

Constructed in the late nineteenth century as an attempt to promote mutual understanding between peoples through language comprehension, Esperanto has been historically associated with internationalism, gathering a community of speakers and activists that strategically connect this language with diverse global political platforms. If, in France, Esperanto used to be particularly prominent among anarchists, communists and pacifists, what is this language’s current political relevance? What impacts have new communication technologies such as social media had on the organization of this community and language movement? Through participant observation – in French and Esperanto – and archival research concentrated in Paris, I mapped out how Esperanto activists use this language in online and face-to-face debates to question the post-political consensus about the use of national languages (such as English and French) for international communication.

Approaching a moment of significant changes in the way people communicate and mobilize politically, I found that Esperanto frequently works as a gateway for people to engage with other political causes, such as movements for open-source software and against neoliberal globalization (like the Gilets jaunes in France). Within these frameworks, Esperanto activists depart from the fight against linguistic discrimination and a preference for participatory over mass communication to re-politicize acts of communication and contribute to radical politics.

Reaching back to Nitra, where both this blog post and my fieldwork began, the outcome of that debate was that any form of internationalist or anti-nationalist stance can prove productive, as long as it fosters more egalitarian and inclusive communicative exchanges through the international circulation and co-production of information, ideas and knowledge.

 

Fians, Guilherme. 2019. Of revolutionaries and geeks: Mediation, space and time among Esperanto speakers. University of Manchester, PhD dissertation.

Lionel Wee and Robbie Goh on their book, Language, Space, and Cultural Play

 

Language, Space and Cultural Play

Interview by Ida Hoequist

https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/language-space-and-cultural-play/327DE07D95DC80767188DE0AA9139EDD

Ida Hoequist:  In this book, you combine affect theory with an attention to the human built environment and a philosophy of meaning-making borrowed from linguistics, and the end result is the impressively seamless framework that you call “affect regimes”: ways that particular places structure the dispositions of people in them. Given that your framework is so eclectically sourced, which disciplines do you see this book speaking to and what do you hope it brings to those conversations?

Lionel Wee and Robbie Goh: This book hopes to speak to disciplines such as linguistics, sociology, and anthropology. For linguistics, the study of affect remains relatively new in spite of growing recognition of its importance, not least because language still tends to be conceptualized as a medium for cognition. Affect and cognition are often treated as separate phenomena, with the former working against the supposed proper functioning of the latter. At the same time, while disciplines such as sociology and anthropology have long given much emphasis to affect, the attention to how affect is materialized in the built environment remains a relatively new focus. In its study of semiotic landscapes, we try in the book to both accord greater recognition to the role of affect and to also show how that role can be theorized.

Ida Hoequist:   Affect theory is by no means a cohesive body of scholarship, so there is a wide and varied field of potential ways to understand what affect might be. Can you share with us how you came to the particular understanding of affect that you use for your book?

Lionel Wee and Robbie Goh: It is hard and sometimes misleading to try to go back and trace one’s scholarly influences, especially since one’s exposure to ideas and discussions with colleagues hardly ever follows a neat linear trajectory. However, works by Patricia Clough and Arlie Hochschild were important in initially shaping our ideas. These were further refined through further readings and discussions, and perhaps most importantly, our own experiences doing fieldwork as we collected data from actual landscapes.

Ida Hoequist:  Your title refers to cultural play; can you share with us how that ties into the landscapes in the book and the semiotic processes you describe?

Lionel Wee and Robbie Goh: This is an elaboration of some of the concepts commonly deployed in cultural studies, urban/cultural sociology and cultural geography.  One of the key ideas running through these fields is that space is never a blank slate, but rather the site of contestations, negotiations and influences.  These can take a myriad of forms, including spatial size, spatial design, signage, historical overtones, media representations, and so on.  Often, too, different groups will have different investments in the same site: for very young children a playground is for swinging or see-sawing, for teenagers it may be for practicing parkour moves, for pet owners it is for their pets to play, for foreign domestic workers it is a refuge from the regimentation of the households in which they work.  The play of these different structural/semiotic elements in combination with the interventions of different groups, is what creates affective regimes, and also what makes them so complex.

The bottom line is that affective regimes are not static and monologic, but rather the product of dialogical tensions and texts.

Ida Hoequist:  The concepts in this book are so eerily applicable to the currently ongoing coronavirus pandemic that they almost seem prescient. Many parts of the world right now could serve as stellar case studies for your framework — for example, the use of signs, floor markings, and barriers in grocery stores could be part of an attempt to construct an affective regime of caution. You also write about the effects of people increasingly leading their social lives in digital spaces, which people are doing now more than ever in places where social distancing is mandated. If you were to add a pandemic-focused section, what might be in it and would it prompt any changes in or expansions of your framework?

Lionel Wee and Robbie Goh: Yes, the restructuring of spaces (‘social distancing’), the introduction of fines and other penalties for non-compliance, the use of tracing apps (with concomitant privacy concerns), the gradual re-opening up of different sectors of the economy (since some spaces are more easily restructured to minimize the transmission of Covid-19 than others) – these are situations that call out for analyses along the lines we have discussed in our book. We would in any such discussion want to add a section of how to conceptualize a semiotic landscape that has been temporarily shut down or closed off. For example, a shop sign that says ‘Entrance’ is no longer operational if the entire site that the shop is part of has been shut down due to a citywide lockdown. But the sign cannot be said to have been discarded or abandoned (which would be the case if the site is slated for demolition). The communicative function of the ‘Entrance’ sign is in abeyance for the duration of the lockdown. Exactly how to theorize this is an interesting matter, and it is one that Lionel is pursuing in his latest book.

The digital mediations accelerated by Covid-19 certainly bear on many of the practices we discuss in the book, including travel, friendliness and public space, romance, and others.  One aspect that we would probably have expanded on in a pandemic-focused additional chapter, would probably be fear – how this is circulated and channeled in the absence of physical movement and a greater reliance on media.

Ida Hoequist:  It’s clear throughout the book that both of your ways of thinking, as scholars from different disciplines, are threaded through the material. Were there points that you see as being particularly enriched by your cross-disciplinary co-authorship, or points that were more complicated or challenging to work through together?

Lionel Wee and Robbie Goh: We work well together because of a mutual respect for our different disciplinary backgrounds (Lionel is a linguist and Robbie a scholar of literary/cultural studies). There was only one complication to really speak of, and that was in our different approaches to writing up the book. As a linguist, Lionel is more in the habit to constantly referring back to specific linguistic examples when discussing ideas. In contrast, Robbie is quite comfortable expounding without always making such references. This was never a major issue because drafts were being circulated back and forth between the two of us. This was a deliberate writing strategy to minimize having two otherwise distinct voices in a single book.  By the same token, it was enriching to benefit from a combination of the solid grounding in linguistic debates, with the wide range of examples and perspectives from popular culture, tourism studies and literary history (among others).

Elizabeth Fox takes the page 99 test

I have been fascinated by Mongolia’s capital city since my first visit in 2012. Despite my familiarity with the anthropological literature, on arrival in Ulaanbaatar I was utterly taken aback by the unique metropolis that greeted me, an architectural palimpsest of Mongolia’s history: steel and glass skyscrapers next to Soviet-era apartment blocks next to white felt-wrapped gers (yurts) enclosed in wooden fences. My first obsession was the footwear: every woman looked dressed to the nines, deftly navigating the pot-holed roads in heels of all heights, men striding confidently in polished leather cap toes. From that moment on, I felt driven to explore these untold aspects of Mongolia, to unearth their complexities and contradictions and to try to engage with the city as experienced by her residents.

Seven years and three degrees later I defended my PhD, a study of life in Ulaanbaatar’s “ger districts”. As I discuss on page 99 of my thesis, in 2007 the ger districts were classified by the UN as “informal settlements”. As ger districts have grown over the last thirty years to surround the city centre and spread out over the mountainsides that encircle the capital, the undeserved tag of informality – incorrectly designating the ger districts as being unplanned settlements where non-compliant housing is constructed on lands to which occupants have no legal claims (UN 2011) – has been accompanied by a scholarly approach that tends to focus on ‘lack’. Ger districts are thus usually described in terms of absent infrastructural amenities: running water, paved roads, central heating, a sewage system, effective refuse collection. Similarly, Ger district residents are often depicted as destitute, unemployed, and uneducated rural-urban migrants who have become detached from the countryside and, unable to integrate into the city, fall into a cultural and economic void.

My thesis challenges both narratives and represents the first book-length study of an Ulaanbaatar ger district based on long-term residential fieldwork. As the subheading on page 99 states, my ethnography drives the study of these areas “Beyond ‘Lack’” by engaging with the social, material, linguistic and bureaucratic infrastructures that do exist in the ger district. I explore ger district kinship networks and the enaction of relations through vocative kin term usage, I trace the flow of goods and people between country and city, the exchanges and consumption of countryside meat that connect ger district dwellers to their homelands, and I examine the daily work of local bureaucrats that render ger district lives legible to the state and define residents as deserving or not of welfare assistance. I argue that “ger districts are neither just the outcome of migration in ‘the age of the market’ [as Mongolians call the post-socialist era] nor the simple manifestation of a nomadic culture caught in the middle of a transition to urbanism” (Fox 2019: 99). Instead, I trace their peripheralization during socialism, and interweave the life histories of ger district residents with the histories of social change in Mongolia. Finally, “challenging standard conceptions of centres and peripheries by ‘thinking with’ the ger districts” (Ibid.), I disentangle approaches to urbanity that carry inherent sedentary biases from the discussion of the profound challenges ger district residents do face in their daily lives.

Fox, Elizabeth. (2019). “Between Iron and Coal: Enacting Kinship, Infrastructure and Bureaucracy in the Ger Districts of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia”. PhD Thesis. University College London.
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/anthropology/people/research-students/liz-fox
https://ucl.academia.edu/ElizabethFox

Jasper Waugh-Quasebarth takes the p. 99 test

Opening to page 99 of Finding the Singing Spruce: Craft Labor, Global Forests, and Musical Instrument Makers in Appalachia, you’ll find my reflections on choosing apprenticeship as the ethnographic method that would fit my research questions exploring how craft labor was related to connections with forest landscapes in the mountain forests of West Virginia. While the page generally focuses on how I changed research topics to focus on the materials of craft as an entrance into the meaning of work and how I found makers (often locally famous and frequently interviewed) had ready-to-articulate ideas about their craft, one sentence stands out to speak to the whole of the dissertation.  

 

I found that verbal learning about the craft processes and the craft in general occurred more often in tandem with my kinesthetic, material, and temporal experience that inspired discussion not broached in our interviews.

 

Ethnographic apprenticeship is the methodological rock upon which the rest of the work unfolds, as the bulk of my argument is made through the narratives of building instruments with three makers. Learning the craft enabled me to feel the affect of the work: the compulsion to make despite adverse and anxiety-inducing economic conditions, the joy and frustration of intersubjective relationships emerging between skilled crafter and wood materials as successful instruments or dashed hopes, and living in the contradiction of the major paradoxes of musical instrument making. Working alongside makers enabled me to see how they live in the contradictory processes of bringing life to an instrument through the death of a tree and relying on the capitalist regimes of timber and factory production that elide the livelihoods and material necessities of craft makers. Working together on material objects also revealed other categories that rendered the work meaningful. Through long hours spent together in the shop, topics emerged that were not discussed in interviews guided by my research questions. Relationship building through apprenticeship revealed that religion was the main driver of meaning in work in one case and transnational connections between people and forest landscapes in another. While the presence of the forest and relationship to the materials was central in both cases, it was other relationships that foregrounded the meaning of the work. 

 

While these methods limited the scope of the dissertation, and made it difficult to speak to the extensive scale of instrument making in Appalachia, empirical discussion of the political economic context, and contrasting takes on the position of racialization and gendering, it did allow me to once explore the intricacies of the relationships between working humans and our environments, as well as position those uniquely human forms of relationship that enable us to make sense of the political, economic, and ecological webs we inhabit. 

 

Jasper Waugh-Quasebarth. 2019. Finding the Singing Spruce: Craft Labor, Global Forests, and Musical Instrument Makers in Appalachia. University of Kentucky, Phd.

Tanja Ahlin takes the pg. 99 test

Page 99 of my thesis is so short I can quote it here in its entirety. Here it goes:

Love

My mother never told me
Love is a bottle of mango pickles
She used to put in my cotton bag
Every time I leave my home town

One day
Her season of mangoes ended
And never returned”

Hrishikesan

When I first read this, I thought well, this is certainly not representative of my thesis. After all, I didn’t spend the last several years analysing poetry to get a PhD in Indian literature. Rather, my study is about how care is ‘done’ in Indian transnational families. Specifically, I look at how nurses from Kerala, South India, who migrate abroad for work, take care of their aging parents who remain in India. I conducted ethnographic fieldwork by visiting Kerala and Oman as one of the nurses’ destination countries, and elsewhere via information and communication technologies (ICTs). I draw on material semiotics approach from Science and Technology Studies (STS) to analyse my data. According to this approach, ‘care’ is understood as something that people do within specific practices. Importantly, care includes not only people, but also non-human actors – in my case, everyday ICTs like mobile phones and webcams. However, these technologies are not only passive tools that people use for their own purposes; instead, they actively shape what care comes to mean and how it should be done to be considered good.

In my thesis, I show how adult children abroad, their parents in India, and various ICTs establish what I call transnational care collectives. The dynamic of these collectives (that is, which family members and which technologies are involved and how) depends on each family. Besides sending remittances to the parents, the main care practice within transnational care collectives is calling. But for this care to be considered good, some conditions have to be fulfilled: the calling needs to be frequent, too. Different devices shape frequent calling as a care practice differently: on the phone, people share everydayness by sharing the details of their everyday lives, while on the webcam, they can spend time together, sometimes by being silent. ICTs thus change what ‘good care’ comes to mean, but they further also influence how gender and kinship become enacted in new ways.

The care practices I describe are radically different from elder care that is normally considered good in India, such as living together and sharing food, practices which demand physical proximity. ICTs help to bridge geographic distance in some ways, but not in others; they may even bring about challenging situations and conflicting emotions. I felt my thesis didn’t quite do justice to the depth of experiences of the people I encountered in my fieldwork. By way of mitigating this, I added a poem as an introduction to each thesis chapter.

I now realize that no other page in my thesis could represent its core better than page 99.

Tanja Ahlin. 2020. Care through Digital Connections: Enacting Elder Care Through Everyday Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in Indian Transnational Families.  University of Amsterdam, Phd.

Michelle Williams takes the page 99 test

One half of page 99 of my doctoral thesis is a photo, taken at eye level of a group of Tongan students sitting cross-legged on the ground of their school courtyard in Auckland, New Zealand. They are rehearsing for an upcoming cultural festival that is the central topic of my research. I am sitting, unseen, with the students as we learn the performance item together. The movement of our bodies and voices has become synchronous over several weeks of practice and in this moment, the production of culturally-specific movement and sound is a uniting factor among myself and the student participants. However, the image also represents a key problem central to my fieldwork methodology: although membership in a music-community transcends difference in some ways, how would I bridge the spaces created by authority, power, ethnicity and age? How could I represent young people’s experiences effectively and help to bring their voices to the fore within a discipline that often excluded them? These questions were significant components in constructing my research model.

My research approach was informed by both Pacific research frameworks and recommendations from ethnomusicology, many of which overlapped in their emphases on relationships, collaboration, and reciprocity. Educational research helped me to problematize how I would represent myself to students, and was essential guidance to the shifting roles I undertook as a learner, music-community supporter and friendly teacher (the latter during the focus groups we co-created). Throughout my fieldwork I attempted to daily to bridge the spaces created by my adult authority and my privileges as a white American researcher, through shared love of popular music, my immigrant status, my Christian upbringing and the common goal of representing “our” school at the cultural festival. Although I had to concede a number of limitations, I was pleased that ultimately the experiences and viewpoints of the students were a major component of my findings, and included several “firsts” in research with Pacific youth in New Zealand.

Michelle Ladwig Williams. 2019. The ASB Polyfest: Constructing Transnational Pacific Communities of Practice in Auckland, New Zealand. University of Auckland, Phd.

Jennifer Hsieh takes the page 99 test

Jennifer Hsieh Page 99 Test

Media scholars, philosophers, and anthropologists have all written about noise—that mysterious sonic object that can be grating to the ear at the same time that it becomes a celebrated call to human action. “Let’s make some noise!” is a phrase that unleashes a liberatory self, daring the addressee to break away from the “same ol’, same ol’,” of everyday life. In other instances, noise is unwelcomed. News reports over the past few years have covered the case of US diplomats’ exposure to a high-pitched, screeching sound that may have caused neurological damage. This linkage has not yet been proven, but that has not stopped researchers from weighing in on the case.

Given the mercurial ways in which noise captures the social and political imagination, I took a radical commitment towards the empirical in my dissertation, Noise Governance and the Hearing Subject in Urban Taiwan (2017). An ethnography of environmental noise control in Taiwan, I investigated the technological and material efforts of citizens, bureaucrats, and acousticians toward incorporating hearing and listening into the social and political domain. I examined the interplay between a technocratic definition of noise and the individual experience of noise by shadowing noise inspectors to a variety of sites, including construction zones, restaurants, and apartment buildings.

At first listen, the everyday sounds of Taipei exist multiple worlds apart from the effervescent noise at protests, or the weaponized noise of political affairs. Nevertheless, these different registers exemplify ways in which noise participates in and produces social worlds. As I found in my research, the symbolic and metaphorical treatments of noise were not wholly separate from a mechanical approach to noise and, in fact, informed one another.

On page 99, I delineate the interests of different stakeholders in Taiwan’s noise control system: “While government agents utilized health and environmental discourse on noise to exercise political and social control over Taiwanese subjects, individual citizens called for increased noise control as a form of civic activism to hold the government accountable for managing the people.” Continuing on, I trace the double-bind of noise control that attends to the social and political needs of both citizens and the state: “On the one hand, noise control supported environmental rights from a liberal progressive view by advocating for a healthy and safe living environment. On the other hand, these social movements were used as substitutes for continued social and political control by a regime with roots in authoritarian forms of governance. In other words, both liberal progressive and authoritarian agendas utilized environmental and public health in the service of conflicting discourses: one for civic activism in advocating for citizens’ rights; the other for the continued justification of government oversight over everyday life.” Given the divergent, contradictory accountings of noise in Taiwan, it is difficult to determine whether noise is celebrated or unwanted; instead, noise is that which keeps the conversation going, producing political subjects by way of the sounded environment. By considering the multiple agendas held by various parties around noise control in Taiwan, I examine how the object of noise remained an enduring social and political phenomenon precisely because of the way it exceeded both official and civic efforts to systematize it.

——————————————————

Hsieh, Jennifer. 2017. Noise Governance and the Hearing Subject in Urban Taiwan. Ph.D. Dissertation. Stanford University.

Jennifer Hsieh is an LSA Collegiate Fellow in Anthropology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her current book project is a study of the scientific, bureaucratic, and audiovisual practices underlying the production of environmental noise from early twentieth-century Taiwan to the present. She has previously held research fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, the Vossius Center at University of Amsterdam, and Fairbank Center at Harvard.

 

Jasmine Folz on her dissertation

Page 99 of my dissertation about free and open source software in India begins with a description of children dancing at a community centre in a Bengaluru slum. This community centre is run by the Free Software Movement of Karnataka, who invited me to spend the weekend with them in October 2016. Following the discussion of dancing I transition to a conversation I had with one of the activists, a middle class man in his 20s I call Rohit. He told me that these are the children of maids before sharing that he always felt he should be nice to maids but he had not considered their lives outside of his home. Working with these children has shifted his awareness of their lived experience and he now visits some of their homes in the slum. I then discuss the fact that although the free software activists have come together to promote free software, that this centre:

…represent[s] their significant commitment to using their mission as a technologically defined group toward social ends. The fact that the software they are using on the old PCs in the centre is free is imperative to the activists. However, the activists accept that to the students who visit the centre, the nuances of free software are almost irrelevant within the context of their need for practical help with school, exposure to the possibilities outside of their habitus, and a safe space to relax and just be kids.

I suggest this ability to downplay the groups’ stated mission can be understood as an extension of Indian middle class activism which has historically used a variety of tools to ameliorate social inequalities. The page then transitions to the next section of the chapter outlining the history of the middle classes in India during British colonial rule.

This test holds for my example. Indeed, this page epitomises much of my dissertation. Namely that free software in India is a technology which is mobilised towards social ends by a relatively elite group of practitioners attempting to improve their nation on multiple fronts. Rather than creating software, the Indian free software community spends most of its energies in the social work of evangelising to students, government, and industry. My dissertation ultimately argues for contextualising technology within political, economic, and sociological contexts as a corrective for much of STS which, despite its many valuable insights into how technology is created and understood, overly focusses on analysing circuits and flows of power all the while gliding over and around the structures that create, maintain, and reproduce power. Rather than describing how different actors are connected within networks which constantly, simultaneously reshape themselves, by showing how technology has developed and been wielded in different times and places to different political and economic ends we are better equipped to work towards mobilising technology for a different and more equitable future.

Jasmine Folz. 2019. Free and Open Source Software in India: Mobilising Technology for the National Good. University of Manchester, Phd.

Jasmine Folz is currently a senior social researcher for a small consultancy in London called Alma Economics.

Carrie Clanton takes the page 99 test

My PhD thesis, Uncanny Others: Hauntology, Ethnography, Media, started out as an ethnographic study of people who pursue ghosts as a hobby in the U.K. As a visual anthropologist, I was interested that the methodologies of ghosthunters mirror the work of some anthropologists who have taken up media; both aspire to use audio-visual recording media in an almost scientific fashion to “capture” their respective, and at times elusive, Other.

Page 99 of my thesis falls in the middle of a fieldwork narrative in which I am establishing ghosthunters as a metaphor to critique how anthropologists have tended to incorporate media into their work. In the excerpt below I am detailing a commercial ghosthunting weekend (GhostCon), organized by a group called Ghost Research Foundation International (GRFI), that I attended in Nottingham; I had encountered events such as water-divining and séances, each accompanied by rigourous pseudo-scientific methodology and audio-visual recording equipment, as well as by more esoteric tools such spirit mediums:

I am surprised at this most unscientific way to gain knowledge—is this what GRFI means by its research “evolving”? To what degree have ghost hunters really taken up science, and where does this merging of science with so-called New Age practices fit in? I had recently been told by a ghosthunter, who also happened to be a physicist, that sometimes a good medium is needed to get results. He was referring to his use of quality recording equipment to capture supposed voices of the dead; but at GhostCon, and at quite a few other ghost hunts I attend, a living, psychic medium seems to be an accepted and indeed sought-after piece of “equipment” to have around, and somehow not at all contrary to the scientifically based methods also being employed.

A break from my PhD to have two babies (and subsequently too many middle-of-the night readings of Derrida) saw me return to academia in the field of cultural studies and focus in on the concept of hauntology. I ultimately argued that media is hauntological in nature—it is able to freeze and manipulate time–to evoke and conjure other people, times, and places–offering a potentially critical approach to representation that differs from traditional ethnography.

Few anthropologists today would aspire to the sort of wholesale salvage and archival tasks originally touted as the great promise of media recording devices in the field. But few have embraced media and its uncanny temporality as a way of producing cultural representations that are more on par with James Clifford’s notion of surreal anthropology than the outputs suggested by the early manuals on visual anthropology–and their very similar counterparts, the how-to guides for ghosthunting that I encountered in my fieldwork.

Carrie Clanton completed her PhD at the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2017. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, and is currently writing a monograph about soundtracks. 

Carrie Clanton. 2017. Uncanny Others: Hauntology, Ethnography, Media. Goldsmiths College, University of London. Phd dissertation.