Is history-making only the domain of human beings? For the American cultural anthropologist Anna L. Tsing, plants, fungi, and bacteria are also agents of historical change. Proceeding from the economics of colonial plantations and in light of the consequences of contemporary capitalism for the environment, Tsing argues in her Eric Wolf Lecture that we must foreground pests and pathogens, e.g., in our consideration of how history is made.
Colonial plantations remade human nature, setting in motion the forms of “race” we know today. Plantations also remade the nature of other organisms, and not just through breeding. Pests, weeds, and pathogens changed their habits of growth and reproduction in the plantation, and some developed newly virulent trajectories as “creatures of empire.”
Plants, fungi, and bacteria make their own history, but they do not make it as they please... We are used to imagining other organisms as backgrounds—or resources—for human histories. What if we were to look again to notice the histories they make? As the environmental consequences of capitalist industry spiral out of control and reshape life across the earth, our habit of imagining that only humans make history is no longer adequate.
11th Eric Wolf Lecture
17 October 2016, 6.15 p.m.
Anna L. Tsing is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She studied at Yale University (B.A.) and Stanford University (M.A., Ph.D.). Her fieldwork has taken her to the farthest corners of Indonesia, where she investigated the influence of global processes on the indigenous population and environment. Among her most notable books are Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (2004) and In the Realm of the Diamond Queen: Marginality in an Out-of-the-Way Place (1994).
The IFK will host a discussion with Anna Tsing the day after her Eric Wolf Lecture, on October 18, 2016, at
Eine Kooperation mit dem Institut für Sozialanthropologie (ISA) der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften und dem Institut für Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie der Universität Wien.
Ort: ÖAW GROSSER FESTSAAL, IGNAZ-SEIPEL-PLATZ 2, 1010 WIEN