Marc Eaton’s book investigates those who investigate ghosts

In the “spirit” of the Halloween season, a book by Marc Eaton, associate professor of sociology, has been released in print by Routledge. It previously has been available as an ebook via Google and Amazon.

“Sensing Spirits: Paranormal Investigation and the Social Construction of Ghosts” examines ghosts as a social phenomenon. The purpose is not to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts, Eaton says. “My interest was in the people who study ghosts. I wanted to try to understand the motives and methods of paranormal investigators, as well as the meanings that they derive from their participation.”

Eaton’s interest in the topic began in graduate school when he started watching the popular television program “Ghost Hunters” out of curiosity. “I started looking at ghosts through a sociological lens, in terms of how small groups of people make sense of the world,” he says. “I became fascinated with how people who engage in paranormal investigation come to a collective understanding of a place as haunted.”

When he came to the Ripon College campus in the fall of 2011, Eaton became acquainted with Noah Leigh ’04 of New Berlin, Wisconsin, who runs a paranormal group out of Milwaukee. “He wound up being my primary contact for several years,” Eaton says. “This then allowed me to make all these other contacts within the paranormal investigation subculture.”

He participated in 20 field observations of investigations of allegedly haunted properties, and conducted 50 interviews with paranormal investigators. Through this extensive research, Eaton uncovered some interesting trends. Most investigators, for example, are initially motivated by a personal experience with what they believe to be a spiritual presence, while others hope to make a groundbreaking scientific discovery by capturing definitive evidence of the afterlife, he says.

“Investigators use a variety of methods, ranging from séances to cutting-edge technological devices, in their attempts to make contact with ghosts,” Eaton says. “The information that they gather using these methods becomes the raw material for ‘sensing spirits,’ that is, coming to a shared understanding of a location as being haunted or not.

“Ultimately, paranormal investigators find meaning in the practice. Some find spiritual solace in what they believe to be concrete evidence of life after death, while others are excited by the possibility of being pioneers of a new scientific field. Regardless of these outcomes, most are satisfied by the thought that they helped someone who was in need. They see themselves as social workers for the living and the dead, and take great pride in assuaging the fears of the living or calming the souls of the deceased.”

After all of his time spent searching for ghosts alongside paranormal investigators and hearing their stories, does Eaton think ghosts exist? “Ghosts are real,” he says, “to the extent that they are perceived as real by many people and have real consequences in people’s lives because of that.” He says ghosts still haunt the minds of many people today and will continue to lurk in the dark recesses of our culture for many years to come.


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