As a subject, ghosts are by their very nature hard to research. In part, our project aims to grapple with this issue: how do you go about finding the ghosts of social haunting? The first phase of our research has been labelled ‘exploration’. A time to explore the concept, the case studies and potential research methods. With my background in landscape archaeology, exploration is something that lies close to my heart. Our subject is all about exploring the physical environment, always on the lookout for the remnants of the past. We do this at a number of different scales: our surveys range from broad assessments of a character all the way down to centimetre perfect mappings of monuments.
Like most investigations, Geoff and I decided that ours should start with making a very broad assessment of the case study area. We did some wandering around. To those used to thinking of academics buried in books and archive collections, wandering around might seem like a bit of tenuous research activity, but as Paul Graves-Brown has described, wandering has a great pedigree as an important exploration activity. For Paul, the process of wandering around, of observing the world as it is and not what it seems to be, is, following James Gibson, a means of re-educating attention. By retuning ourselves to the banality of everyday life, we can begin to gain a sense of our deep, complex and affective entanglements with our past.
But this is only part of story. Social haunting is about memory. Walter Benjamin once said that “for authentic memories, it is far less important that the investigator report on them than that he mark, quite precisely, the site where he gained possession of them … in the strictest sense, genuine memory must therefore yield an image of the person who remembers, in the same way a good archaeological report not only informs us about the strata from which its findings originate, but also gives us an account of the strata which first had to be broken through.”
By wandering around with our volunteers, we hope to not only retune ourselves to the banality of everyday life, locating the places and objects with which memories most resonate, but also to better understand the people haunted by ghosts of one particularly contested past – the miners’ strike – and the imagined, alternative futures that event created and destroyed.