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Between belief and science: paranormal investigators and the production of ghostly knowledge in contemporary England

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Title: Between belief and science: paranormal investigators and the production of ghostly knowledge in contemporary England
Author(s): Hanks, Michele
Advisor(s): Dominguez, Virginia R.
Contributor(s): Bunzl, Matti; Desmond, Jane; Silverman, Helaine
Department / Program: Anthropology
Discipline: Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Doctoral
Subject(s): anthropology of science anthropology of religion anthropology of England paranormal
Abstract: Based on eighteen months of field research in England, this dissertation is an ethnography of knowledge production among contemporary English paranormal investigators. It examines the paradox of paranormal investigators who are critical of (orthodox) scientists and yet remain captivated by science. Paranormal investigators are amateur experts who seek to make sense of ghosts and the paranormal through their collaboration with mediums, deployment of technology, and interpretation of embodied encounters with ghosts. They grapple with their understandings of science, belief, and evidence in their struggles to understand the paranormal and, by doing so, they reveal the boundaries of popular knowledge, scientism, and expertise. This dissertation begins with an analysis of the constitution of “paranormal investigators.” I demonstrate that investigators and their critics both consider belief antithetical to legitimate knowledge. In this context, producing legitimate knowledge, I argue, is deeply contingent on embracing science. I then examine the type of mastery that investigators imagine necessary to produce legitimate knowledge. I argue that they hope to master a variety of “tools,” including mediums, technology, and embodied experience. Despite this aspiration to mastery, they fail to convert each “tool” into a viable form of evidence. I then consider the ways in which paranormal investigators enact their ideologies of research, investigation, and evidence by examining how they use technology and collaborate with mediums. The remainder of the dissertation examines the practical logistics and mechanics of paranormal investigating. I show how online networking and popular imaginaries provide would-be-investigators with the repertoire and imaginative tools needed to craft themselves into investigators. Ultimately, I conclude that a persistent form of scientism renders investigators’ attempts to make sense of the paranormal futile. By eschewing belief and more humanistic ways of knowing as “unscientific” and, thus, ultimately unsatisfactory, investigators remain unable to account for the ghosts they suspect abound. This reveals that paranormal investigators conform to dominant ideologies of science, truth, and evidence, despite the unorthodox subject matter of their research. It also reveals the pervasiveness of a brand of scientism that denigrates anything non-scientific as invalid and unworthy of consideration.
Issue Date: 2012-02-01
Genre: thesis
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/29580
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Michele M. Hanks
Date Available in IDEALS: 2012-02-01
Date Deposited: 2011-12
 

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