Mushroom as Actor

Location: Lecture Theatre at Australian National University

Event: Annual Australian Anthropology Society Conference

Lecture: Keynote Address "Beyond Economic and Ecological Standardization" or informally known as "Anna and the Matsutake Mushroom - A Love Story"

Speaker: Anna Tsing

We, the audience were informed of the hetrogenity of global neoliberal capitalism as demonstrated by the matsutake mushroom. Following in the footsteps of other food writer/ historians/ journalists (Michael Pollan, Theodore Bestor - Global Sushi Guy - and the guy who wrote about oysters as proxy for a story of ecological collapse) Tsing instead used the mushroom to speak of global economic processes, tracing the burgeoning global trade of the matsutake from ethnic Southeast Asia foragers (Laos, Cambodian, Hmong) in the pine forests of Oregon to the market places of Japan. The mushroom trade in this case symbolised a whole lot of things from an opportunity for social outcasts to maintain community ties, a resistance to the homogenising tendencies of global trade and state forest regulation. The mushroom was variously described as resisting, reshaping, symbolising etc. The terms "mushroom as actor" was thrown in at one point.

Most in the audience sat spellbound by this somewhat famous American academic, except for of course the rebellious geeks up the back. When one raised their hand and commented "yeah but its just a mushroom" quiet gaffaws, tinged with academic superiority broke out. A friend whispered to me "mushrooms aren't actors....people are". Of course she was right. The apparent fetishism of this mushroom was only worsened when this slide was projected...... well as, you may have guessed several snide remarks ensued


Of course being anthropologists, the crowd blossomed with whispers about the phallic like qualities of this mushroom that was apparently "penetrating the global markets".....

"Mushroom as porn actor" was my childish see we learn a lot at university.


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