When Home Becomes Unfamiliar: The Pedagogical Implications of Ghosts and Haunting

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Title

2017 Bergamo Conference on Curriculum Theory and Classroom Practice

Conference Location

Dayton, OH


The “spectral turn” of the 1990s/2000s spurred the field of cultural studies to consider what can be learned from the ghosts that inhabit our spaces and the metaphorical purposes they serve. While that turn resulted in questioning issues of knowledge production and the impact of subjugated knowledge when it returns and is detected, the field of education has largely eschewed the concepts of haunting and ghosts. What, however, can be gained by engaging the spectral turn in the context of the classroom? Our purpose in here is to think about what such a conceptual framework can do for education, particularly in the fields of social studies and English education, and paying particular attention to the ghost’s ability to blur conceptual boundaries and to draw attention to ways in which the past is always present.
We draw on Derrida’s (1993) larger concept of hauntology, and the related conceptual metaphors of haunting and ghosts. By doing so, we seek to uncover the interrelated nature of these ideas and the ways in which they blur the lines between commonly held dichotomies, relate to notions of a more just future, and occupy both time and space. The concept of hauntology constitutes an expansion on the word “ontology” recognizing the limits of solely thinking about the nature of being, as ghosts make their presence known while simultaneously being marked by their absence. The reality of the existence of ghosts is unimportant; rather, what is important is the way the ghost signals “that the living present is scarcely as self sufficient as it claims to be” (Jameson, as cited in Davis, 2005, p. 373). The ghost acts as a means of recognizing what is absent yet still present, illuminating how power functions in society in oppressive ways. The ghost demands a “something to be done” (Gordon, 2008, p. xvi) in order to recognize and come to terms with past injustices, in order to create a better future, free of those same injustices.
There are important implications of this work that speak across disciplines. One application of the justice-focus of haunting is that ghosts ask us to consider who isn’t visibly there, in the classroom with us and what can be done to summon and engage those “still missing people” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1994, p. 176, as cited in St. Pierre, 2014, p. 15). We also hope this paper demonstrates the overlap between the different disciplinary applications of ghosts and haunting, e.g., issues of representation, conceptualizations of a more just future, and what are considered viable sources of inquiry. This may be the most useful affordance of using ghosts as a metaphor for education--their concurrent presence and absence may help us to understand how there are distinct disciplinary boundaries (albeit constructed ones) that simultaneously may not matter much at all. While, as Barthes (1986) claims “the interdisciplinary is not a comfortable affair” (p. 56), thinking with ghosts blurs lines in ways that may prove useful for the production of critical and thoughtful students.


English and Comparative Literature