C.A.S.P.E.R Research Center

The Presence of Ghosts in Investigative Context

Media/Press Announcements

Presence is a highly contested aspect of ghost excavations. It is both a contemporary experience, and a continuation of past social and cultural memories. Whether these memories are physically embodied at a particular site is a question that lies at the “heart” of a field investigative strategy at haunted locations.


Notions of presence are based on engaging relationships between a continuing act (lived) and a live performance mediated (in most instances) by non-human actors (the scientific instruments that record and measure changes in the ambient environment). Yet, presence should be the embodiment of performed “reactions”, not measured readings. This involves notions of immediacy (reaction to a target stimulus), context (based on cultural values), and authenticity (both ethnographic and historical researched data). Interaction is implied by the absence of “silence”, and by agency: there is physical (sensory) participation (not passive watch) to effect this relationship through performative activities. Location, too, is important. “To be present” in the present is to be somewhere specific. Thus, the presence of a ghost directs us outside the measurements, and into the social, spatial, and temporality of their manifestation. We enter their contextual world.


Presence is also representation. It implies a communicative channel and relationship between what or who is represented, and how this relationship is being manifested. It is at this stage that the scientific instruments become important. They are the objective observers (and recorders) of actual presence. But they are not the agency of that presence. The investigator, as contextual performer, is the agency that brings the past performance of a drama “back to life”, and into contemporary space.


The politics of presence – the matters of performative power, agency, and social identity in an investigation – are the means that generate and manage presence. They help to eliminate the “silences” (of “ghostspeak”) that are typical of many field investigations: the absence of communication is not the absence of presence.


Presence, and its manifestations, needs to be understood in ethnographic and historical perspective. The presence of the historical present can be “controlled” in the immersive environments of a field investigation because the physical spaces at haunted locations are highly symmetrical: the past and present are continually unfolding together at these locations.

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