Annual anthropology lecture looks to non-human protagonists

Anthropology Professor Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing of the University of California, Santa Cruz, will discuss how histories can be written to recognize non-human protagonists at the annual Lecture in Anthropology at York.

Tsing will address this question by using the metaphor of the fugue to think through the role of the prized matsutake mushroom in the formation of Japanese village forests. In doing so, she will examine how people can live better with their mutual dependency on a multitude of other species.

Left: Matsutake mushrooms grow at elevations of about 5,000 feet. Photo by Lue Vang.

Martin Singer, dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, will open Tsing’s lecture, titled “Fugues for Multi-Species Living”, on Monday, Oct. 19 at 6pm in the Founders Senior Common Room, 305 Founders College, Keele campus.

Tsing’s research interests lie in feminist anthropology; politics, culture and ecology in Indonesia and the United States; and the work of culture difference in global encounters. She is the author of Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (Princeton University Press, 2004) and In the Realm of the Diamond Queen (Princeton University Press, 1993) and is co-editor of Shock and Awe: War on Words (New Pacific Press 2004) and Nature in the Global South: Environmental Projects in South and Southeast Asia (Duke University Press, 2003).

Left: The matsutake mushrooms grow in dense forests of mixed conifers, lodgepole pines and ponderosa pines in Oregon. Photo by Lue Vang.

York sociology Professor Radhika Mongia, environmental studies Professor Anna Zalik and social anthropology student Jaime Yard will respond briefly to the talk before the discussion is opened to the public.

A book signing of Tsing’s most recent work, Friction, co-winner of the American Ethnological Association’s 2005 Senior Book Prize, will follow the lecture.

In the book, Tsing challenges the widespread view that globalization invariably signifies a clash of cultures, and uses friction as a metaphor for the diverse and conflicting social interactions that make up the contemporary world. She focuses on the rainforests of Indonesia, where capitalist interests increasingly reshaped the landscape in the 1980s and 1990s, not so much through corporate design as through awkward chains of legal and illegal entrepreneurs who wrested the land from previous claimants, creating resources for distant markets. In response, environmental movements arose to defend the rainforests and the communities of people who live in them.

The social drama that followed included not only local and national environmentalists, but international scientists, North American investors, advocates for Brazilian rubber tappers, United Nations funding agencies, mountaineers, village elders and urban students, combining in unpredictable, messy misunderstandings, but misunderstandings that sometimes worked out.

The lecture is co-sponsored by York’s Department of Anthropology, Founders College, the Office of the Master of Founders College, the Faculty of Environmental Studies, the York Centre for Asian Research, the Graduate Program in Social Anthropology and the Social Anthropology Graduate Students’ Association.

Everyone is welcome.

For more information, visit the Department of Anthropology Web site.