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Fungal Capacities: A Mushroom's Role in Shaping Asian Commodity Chains
Michael Hathaway  1@  
1 : Simon Fraser University

Presentation :

What happens when we look at a commodity not just as a passive object of human interest and manipulation, but as a living organism that has its own biological capacities, affinities, and actions? In this paper, I suggest that two positions are helpful in exploring the liveliness of commodities. First, we can question the typical notion that humans are masterful subjects that control the world around them. Second, we can explore how other beings are themselves world-making subjects. This paper explores these issues through a study of the matsutake mushroom, a valuable wild fungus that is now gathered in over a dozen countries and shipped to Japan. Based on long-term fieldwork in China and Japan, I show how more than half a million people in rural and urban China hunt this mushroom in high mountain forests. In partial and diverse ways, they learn about and negotiate some of the multispecies assemblages that this mushroom generates, such as its mutualistic relations to trees and active engagements with a variety of insect species. This paper examines the mushroom's active world making, and how such attention provides different accounts of the international trade, where the mushroom itself shapes the tempo and action of the commodity chain, from forest to plate.


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