Ghosts in the head and ghost towns in the field: ethnography and the experience of presence and absence
(University of Roehampton)
Paper short abstract:
This paper uses my hauntings - the destruction of a fieldsite by volcano - to work through the problematics of anthropological experience and ethnographic closure as well as the real and unreal, the written and the unwritten, the present and the absent.
Paper long abstract:
This paper is about an anthropologist coming to terms with the field and fieldwork. In 1995 I left - was evacuated from - my fieldsite as a volcanic eruption started just as my period of fieldwork drew to a close. These eruptions dramatically and instantaneously altered life on the island of Montserrat, a British colony in the Caribbean. Whilst Montserrat the land, and Montserratians the people, migrated and moved on in their lives, Montserrat and Montserratians were preserved in my mind and in my anthropological writings as from 'back home' I held onto the ethnographic present and held dialogues with informants and my self in my head.
Revisiting Montserrat several years into the volcano crisis, I once drove through the villages and roads leading to the former capital of the island where I had worked from. All the people had been evacuated due to the volcano, and yet all of the landscape had been preserved or was being hinted at in the pyroclastic mudflows and ash falls from the volcano. In my journey to the ghost town Plymouth, I recalled the presences from my fieldwork. My route to this modern day Pompeii threw up a stark contrast between absence and presence with deeply unsettling consequences: rather than lay my ghosts to rest, my return to my fieldsite became an opportunity for my ghosts to further bed themselves in. As such, this paper uses my hauntings to work through the problematics of anthropological experience and ethnographic closure as well as the real and unreal, the written and the unwritten
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