PhD Oral Exam - Sandra Huber, Humanities
Witchy Methodologies: Bewitchment, Shapeshifting, and Communication with More-Than-Human Kin
This event is free
School of Graduate Studies
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
Shapeshifting, spellcasting, salt circles: who are witches and why should we, in the 21st century, care to know more about them? My dissertation, Witchy Methodologies: The Techniques of Bewitchment and the Tools of the Dead examines the media and techniques of contemporary North American witchcraft - such as ritual tools, spells, and communication with ancestors and more-than-human kin against a theoretical background that reaches towards feminist and unsettled positionalities. How does the witch act in / on the world in a way that opens new questions surrounding the methods we use to craft knowledge as well as who is deemed able to do so?
My dissertation is broken down into three chapters, where each chapter involves a set of media or techniques that witches use as well as their surrounding questions Chapter 1: Mirrors; Chapter 2: Knots, and Chapter 3: Fluids. In Chapter 1, I take a look at mirrors, concentrating especially on the witches' black scrying mirror that does not reflect, but, rather, divines. Through the scrying mirror, I explore philosophies of reflection and understanding: how does the witch show us a (non-reflective) positionality that counters the Western bourgeois capital-M Man, which, as Sylvia Wynter assert, is overrepresented? In chapter 2, I open a discussion of what I call the methodology of bewitchment and how it is involved with tricks and traps, such as knot spells, cauldrons, and animal familiars. Here I ask, how does bewitchment differ from enchantment, and how does the witch present an alternate lens on modernity? Additionally, I look at knotted issues, such as cultural appropriation, present-day witch hunting, and the space between intuitive knowledge-making, fake facts, and conspiracy theories. In chapter 3, I focus on fluids, in particular water, blood, and ectoplasm. What is it, finally, that the techniques and tools of witches produce? Fluids are enticing particularly because they are creative rather than procreative; they ask us to re-examine the role of critical kinship, particularly in a world wracked by environmental disaster and the familial ideologies of late capitalism. Ultimately, my dissertation is about communication. The tools and techniques that I discuss throughout may seem extraordinary but are in fact quotidian and widespread. We all communicate and seek to connect with more-than-human companions and kin. Rather than learning or making, witches' methods offer a way of unlearning and unmaking the structures that define and bind the perimeters of the enlightened and empirical. How do witches and their techniques teach us to attune to the subtle frequencies of our environments and underworlds and open our ability to listen?