An individual or group which actively, and scientifically conducts fieldwork at haunted locations is (are), in actuality, sensory ethnographers. They encounter similar circumstances and corresponding challenges to data acquisition, social interaction, and the interpretation of observed phenomena, as any cultural anthropologist in the field. The mode of engagement is identical: Both the ghost researcher and anthropologist are working in a social environment characterized by interpenetration between at least two different cultural universes. Whereas the anthropologist is physically situated within one culturally-framed matrix, the ghost researcher may encounter multiple frames, from a variety of cultural and ethnic traditions in the form of sensory residuals or interactive entities. On a haunted battlefield, like Gettysburg, the variety of different cultural and ethnic frames of sensory manifestations can be staggering.
Like anthropology, ghost research is about meaningful human life, not as a set of questions or collections of data, but as a series of engaged situations. Both the anthropologist and ghost researcher enter into social interactions and conversations among people of a different time and cultural view, yet occupying the same physical space. Within this cultural interactional sphere, ghost research is a symmetrical investigation of competing past dramas (both individual and group) and contemporary “natural” sensory manifestations. The result is what Michael Shanks, in referring to archaeological space, has termed the “percolating nature of the past-present environment." This is because the investigation of ghosts and hauntings implies the probability that the past is not "dead," and in interpreting the observations, readings, measurements, and recordings at a location, one assumes that the past continues to play an active and ongoing role in contemporary physical space. This symmetry between the past and present means that the sensory components of each temporal phase may interact without altering the value (data significance), character (observed/recorded manifestations), or evidential data (material remains) of either temporal dimension. Symmetry also means a committed approach to data and its analysis in terms of mutuality and relationality: We should be applying the same measure of relative contextual evaluation to each temporal component and (this is the important point) this should occur independent of, though not mutually exclusive of, each temporal context. We cannot allow the use of contemporary values, interpretations, or biases (including scientific recording and measuring advances and developments) to impede our (hopefully) unbiased analysis of the data. This is the essence of a balanced approach, one that does not impose a “cultural bricolage”: objects or ideas in the currently dominant culture (contemporary) are used to give meaning to the interpretation of the culture or tradition under investigation (that of the ghost or residual haunting). Or worse, we dare not impose our contemporary mores on those interacting entities we are trying to communicate with.
How then do we investigate and interpret haunting phenomena, while applying cultural relativity to our data analysis, I.e., understanding the behavorial manifestations of the ghost or haunting phenomena from the perspective of the cultural or ethnic tradition in which it was originally associated? First, and foremost, this means that the anomalous sensory manifestations that occur at haunted locations can be used as both evidential data and a tool for reconstructing the sociocultural and cognitive systems of dead individuals; second, this “anthropology of the senses” also assumes that these sensory manifestations are a reflection of, and based in, the cultural and/or ethnic traditions in which the entity had lived; and third, these sensory manifestations reflect the memory and experience patterns of a deceased individual’s life events and activities (including mundane habitual actions) that survive physical death. Now, these three conditions are a product of assumptions of the investigative culture. How do we use these implied assumptions to the analysis of the past material remains at haunted locations, without imposing a contemporary viewpoint?
As anthropologically-oriented engagements, we need to understand that in ghost research, like ethnographic fieldwork, there are two perspectives for studying the cultural (and haunting) phenomena (be it in comparative ethnographic: horizontal cultural analysis; or in comparative archaeological: vertical cultural analysis): the “emic” and the “etic”, a distinction used by anthropologists and derived from structural linguistic analysis. An emic approach represents the world view, including behavioral manifestations, from the perspective of the participants of an historical (or archaeological) cultural or ethnic tradition. When we investigate a haunted location, the manifesting behavior is that of the past cultural remains of the ghost. Interpretative (and relevant) data is that information that is both meaningful and appropriate to the haunting entity because it is based in the memory and experiences of the dead individual. The etic approach, on the other hand, represents the views, thoughts, perceptions, and behavior from the perspective of the observer or researcher who is removed temporally, but not spatially, from the culture associated with the haunting phenomena or interactive entity. This temporal distance is based solely on different contextual memories and experiences between the observer (etic view) and the observed (emic view) that occur in the same physical space. Etic accounts are mediated in terms of categories that are regarded as meaningful and appropriate to a community of researchers and investigators. Unfortunately, there is no “etic standardization” among ghost researchers. A word of caution here: The use of an exclusively etic approach contains a number of methodological problems:
1. There is no excavation of “emic” data (in sociocultural/physical context);
2. There is no scientific evidence proving a link between data derived from contemporary etic analysis to the phenomena of ghosts or haunting behavior that is “contextually-sound” ( emically);
3. There is no “etic standardization” of data recording, field methodological techniques, or proper use of field equipment as it pertains to a scientific-humanistic investigation of ghosts or hauntings.
The C.A.S.P.E.R. research center is working on the development of an emic/etic field standardization through the J.A.N.U.S. Project, and more info will be forthcoming soon on the research center’s Web site.
How then can we verify that our data is meaningful and appropriate to an interactive ghost? The data achieves the status of emic by passing the test (an etic view) of response comparativeness, i.e. our investigative techniques (etic) and activities result in sensory manifestations that are recorded and/or measured, and are repeatable. The way to arrive at these specifically-framed activities is through the ethnographic excavation of the culture and material haunting remains of the location’s past cultural and ethnic history and the development of an appropriate “ghost script” targeting specific individuals known to have occupied the residence or physical location. If there is a response (in the form of sensory data) to our framed activities that is simultaneously-directly related to a specific activity in the “ghost script," and this response is repeatable at different times (and verified through multiple etic measures), we then know that the data is emically sound. The etic recording and measuring of the sensory responses during the framed performance-based activities assures us of an emic/etic distinction of data acquisition, and the corresponding measuring and recording of same. This then can serve as a foundation for comparative analysis of haunting phenomena, a metronic database of haunt measurement, with the ultimate finality of developing a ghost/haunt paradigm (with etic standardization) for all field investigative research. Finally, the use of an emic approach insures the moral delegation and our obligation as investigators ( and educators) of not only making contact and recording data (etic view) but also processing and trying to understand why particular individuals are still here, long after physical death. More importantly, the emic approach can provide these individuals, through directed performance, an alternative to move beyond their habitual activities and into the "light."
Part 2 of this paper will give a specific example of an emic/etic approach in an investigative analysis of the "Jeremy Haunting" at the Homan House on Baltimore St. in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
NOTE: These emic/etic approaches create a vast symmetrization of percolating past and present fields of influence on at least two stratagraphic levels:
1. “Distant Past”: The ghost’s past experiences and memory as a “living being," including habitual mundane activities;
2. “Contemporary Past”: The ghost’s “experiences” as an interactive apparational entity.
The emic approach seeks to find a responsive chord to engagements in a symmetrical environment to both these pasts. The etic approach seeks to detect, through the use of a technology foreign to the observing culture, instances of environmental contextual discontinuity. Both approaches are mutually-inclusive in an ehtnoarchaeghostological investigation.