How people experience ghosts and hauntings, the ways they make sense of uncanny experiences, and the consequences thereof
The Hauntings of Everyday Life
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Dennis Waskul with Michele Waskul
"In the top corner of the window a pale, milky-white wisp is rising almost to the top of our ten-foot ceiling.... I am startled but not afraid....Mostly, I am engrossed; I have never seen anything like this before (or since) and it fascinates me."
Dennis Waskul writes these lines—about his first-hand experience with the supernatural—in the introduction to his beguiling book Ghostly Encounters. Based on two years of fieldwork and interviews with 71 midwestern Americans, the Waskuls' book is a reflexive ethnography that examines how people experience ghosts and hauntings in everyday life. The authors explore how uncanny happenings become ghosts, and the reasons people struggle with or against a will to believe. They present the variety and character of hauntings and ghostly encounters, outcomes of people telling haunted legends, and the nested consequences of ghostly experiences.
"The Waskuls' ethnographic and sociological approach makes a significant contribution to the existing literature. Their detailed methodology is particularly useful in connection with material that is often considered taboo or is stigmatized, trivialized, and sensationalized. The intriguing narrative and its focus on ghostly experiences that lurk outside the norms of religion and spirituality provide key insights. Ghostly Encounters should attract a wide audience."
"Dennis Waskul—an accomplished ethnographic researcher, a skilled writer, and a gifted sociologist—and co-author Michele Waskul take their readers on a journey through the social world of ghosts. Ghostly Encounters is a compelling book that relates the ways and means of interpreting everyday life among people who not only believe in ghosts but also have made ghosts a part of their very being. The authors are committed to capturing 'ghostly reason,' the emotional, intellectual, dramatic, and enigmatic stances that are vital aspects of believing in ghosts."
"The book's approach is less investigative or skeptical.... Ghostly Encounters contains many first-person anecdotes about ghostly experiences.... In this sense the Waskuls' ethnographic research is aligned with a folkloric approach.... Ghostly Encounters is an interesting contribution to the literature on what ghosts mean to the individuals who experience and report them."
"Ghostly Encounters is an interesting and lively read.... [T]he volume can serve as a very useful introduction to ghosts and hauntings for the inquisitive and discerning general or student reader."
"The possible interpretations of these experiences are set in their cultural context, while acknowledging the similarity of ghostly narratives across time and culture... the volume can serve as a very useful introduction to ghosts and hauntings for the inquisitive and discerning general or student reader."
"The authors seek to understand the odd and persistent ghost experiences that are continually prevalent in contemporary society and how such experiences relate to and serve various social and cultural functions. The Waskuls explore ghost beliefs that are outside of mainstream religious and spiritual structures and institutions.... The book is well researched.... the authors go into a lot of detail regarding their methodology during their two-year fieldwork and research journey around the upper Midwest.... One particularly strong chapter regards the legends of hauntings at the Loon Lake cemetery."
"Based largely on two years of interviews and fieldwork, the [Waskuls] document and interrogate the uncanny encounters people have with 'something' that is subsequently interpreted to be a ghost. Along the way, the researchers discuss not only the individual-level significance of these encounters, but also the social and cultural dimensions that might go a long way toward explaining why experiences and beliefs of this sort have not declined in a supposedly rationalizing world.... Many fascinating insights and conclusions are raised throughout the text.... a very valuable and informative study in its own right."
1. The Trouble with Ghosts
Appendix: Methods and Data
Dennis Waskul is a Professor of Sociology and Distinguished Faculty Scholar at Minnesota State University Mankato, and has served as president of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction. He has authored or co-authored several books including Body/Embodiment: Symbolic Interaction and the Sociology of the Body (with Phillip Vannini), The Senses in Self, Culture, and Society (with Phillip Vannini and Simon Gottschalk), and Popular Culture as Everyday Life (with Phillip Vannini).
Michele Waskul is an independent scholar with a focus on special education.