Accepted Paper:

Analytical haunting: an ethnographic journey in Central Mexico  


Catherine Whittaker (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

The author employed the concept of haunting as an analytical device during her fieldwork in Mexico, which was marked by the case of a disappeared girl, necropolitics, and the ambiguities of ethnographic practice. Haunting productively blurs the binaries of existence, including analytical categories.

Paper long abstract:

What if, instead of analyzing the occult, we instead harness the occult as ethnographic method? My recent 15-month PhD fieldwork in Milpa Alta on the southern border of Mexico City was haunted by the case of Teresa, a teenage girl who had disappeared without a trace. In Mexico, there are thousands of disappeared young women, many of which are trafficked to feed the insatiable transnational demand for sex work. Teresa's case was haunting because of the uncertainty about what had actually happened to her: Like the many ghosts of Milpa Alta, she moved in the space between life and death. But for her people, death is not the end, but the beginning of a journey: No longer human, the "beloved being" travels to the otherworld, not entirely sealed from human perception. Only "social death" marks the end of existence.

Like the dead, the ethnographer's journey engages and subverts the binaries of existence - as well as the analytical categories of academia: being both self and other when distancing oneself whilst being fully immersed in "the field", never being fully in one place, always leaving something of oneself behind. In the ethnographic "ghost writing" that follows, we seek to become as mediums to manifold voices. The image of spirit possession powerfully bridges scholarly obsessions, being-in-the-(other)world, narrative world-making as well as the narrative ruptures of trauma and necropolitics. It is precisely the spectral aspect of haunting as an analytical device that makes it frightfully productive.

Panel MB-SSR05
Religious mobility revisited: migrating spirits, rituals and beliefs