Society for the Anthropology of Work
Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
The ghostwriters I study face a dilemma: how to drum up new business when your business is being invisible? Often bound by non-disclosure agreements, lacking line-items on their resumes, and not infrequently working at the margins of what many might consider legitimate employment, ghostwriters are skilled at helping others communicate with authority, but often struggle to convey their own expertise. This is despite the fact that ghostwriting is flourishing: in an era in which doctors have blogs; students start building their personal brands in high school; 20-something start-up founders aim to become “thought leaders”; evangelicals self-publish their testimony through ebooks; academics feel pressure to publish peer-review journal articles and live-Tweet their annual conferences, and all of these people regularly hire ghostwriters, the outsourcing of text-production is something of an open secret. Nevertheless, many of my ghostwriter informants describe working “in the shadows,” telling not even their closest friends and family members about the work they do. Whether as cover story or as marketing tactic, they re-cast themselves as experts in something else: developmental editing, search engine optimization, brand management, student success, stress reduction, even spiritual guidance. The practice of ghostwriting and predicaments of ghostwriters invite us to re-examine the interactional processes through which expertise is constructed, embedded, and embodied, and how once-new objects of expertise might ultimately be re-appropriated by the spectral experts who helped write them into existence.