Participation, Observation, and Performance (P.O.P.) in Ghost Research: Is it “Live” or a “Recording”?
Written By: John G Sabol Jr.
These are questions aimed at an archaeologist who is also a “ghost excavator”. My goal as a “ghost excavator” is to unearth a “live” past presence, one that is framed within an archaeological context (a particular strata of past uncertainty), and when “acting” in the roleplay of an ethnographic (culture-specific) performance.
As a trained anthropologist conducting “ghost excavations”, I participate and perform as a cultural being, enacting practices and behaviors that would resonate with a past intelligent entity. If certain “ghosts” and intelligent haunting scenarios are manifestations of “dead” cultural beings, their behavioral presence at a particular place and time should reflect this cultural behavior. This assertion reflects my belief that an intelligent haunting is not a “paranormal” event or anomaly. It is a “staged” performance. It is “twice-behaved behavior”, Richard Schechner’s oft-quoted characterization of a performance. The “ghost” performs his/her behaved role as “human” twice: first, as a member of his/her culture while “alive”, and second, as a memory practice in a “ghost culture”, the cultural behavioral patterns of that former role (recalled after physical death as habit memories).
If these so-called intelligent entities are not manifesting to resonating anthropologically-oriented participatory/performative practices, then these manifestations are merely physically-unexplained (according to present perceptions of reality) and non-contextual anomalies. They are not the responsive actions of “dead” individuals. The “ghost”, in these instances, was never “alive” in the first place!
The P.O.P. methodology that I use in fieldwork tests these assumptions through a participatory cultural immersion (P), and a directed, targeted individual performance using a fictive memory of a specific situational past event/activity (P). Both investigative roles are observed/recorded “live” by an investigative team (O), located outside the frame of direct immersive action (“the stage” = site of excavation).
The recording of these practices “live” enables a participatory role to immediately become a performance role that targets a specific individual. There is no “watch and wait” in P.O.P., nor is there a prolonged evidence review (the “reveal”), conducted many hours after manifestations were recorded!
P.O.P. adds “live” context, an essential and necessary element for all “ghost excavations”. Context is everything. Context distinguishes between a “dead” presence and a “live” manifesting one! Was that sound, smell, movement, or voice a manifesting “live” behavioral response to a “live” investigative practice, or was it merely a residual recording of a past “presence”. “P.O.P.” makes that distinction a “live”, not recorded, “reveal”!!
Read more of John Sabol Jr.'s research at: ghostexcavation.com