Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: Anthropology and Cultural Studies
Competition: US & Canada
Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing has a penchant for seeing the global in the local, for identifying the frictions through which intercommunal histories are made, for recognizing the effects—positive and deleterious—of those historical shifts, and for generously bringing in experts in a wide variety of fields to help her plumb the depths of her topics. All of these decided strengths are evident in her Guggenheim Fellowship project, On the Circulation of Species: The Persistence of Diversity.
In its simplest terms On the Circulation of Species is an “ethnography of matsutake,” a mushroom highly prized by the Japanese, but as in her previous studies, this apparently tightly focused subject actually serves as a gateway to a larger discussion, in this case of the global dilemmas of diversity, specifically, as she phrases it, the “emergent, ‘contaminated’ diversity of the present.” Although modernization with its emphasis on the discipline of labor and natural resources seemed to sound a death knell for diversity in fields ranging from industrial output, to agriculture, to forestry, and beyond, diversity nevertheless has continued to emerge. Matsutake is one example of this: it grows only in symbiotic relationship with nutrient-challenged trees, such as those in industrial tree plantations or well-used forests. It is harvested by people on the margins of the industrial economy, where cultural diversity thrives. Matsutake supports the livelihoods of diverse people in diverse places, from Oregon to Lapland to Yunnan. (As Ms. Tsing points out, in Yunnan alone, 600,000 people are in the wild mushroom trade.) The study itself was the impetus to another kind of diversity, as she established the collaborative Matsutake Worlds Research Group, to study “global scientific, ecological and commercial connections involving matsutake mushrooms.”
In addition to over forty articles, published in such journals as Cultural Anthropology and Southeast Asian Studies Bulletin and in numerous anthologies, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing is the author of two books, both published by Princeton University Press: In the Realm of the Diamond Queen (1994), which won the Henry J. Benda Prize in Southeast Asian Studies, and Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (2005), which the American Ethnological Society honored with its Senior Book Award. Friction has become a standard text in graduate seminars in geography, sociology, critical theory, feminist studies, environmental studies, and political economy, among other areas. She also coedited five anthologies, including Communities and Conservation: Histories and Politics of Community-Based Natural Resource Management (with J. Peter Brosius and Charles Zerner) (Altamira Press, 2005) and, most recently, Words in Motion: Towards a Global Lexicon (with Carol Gluck) (Duke UP, 2009).
During the course of her career, her research has been supported by Fellowships from the National Institute of Mental Health, SSRC, NEH, American Association of University Women, University of California Humanities Research Institute, and Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. She has also received funding from the University of California Pacific Rim Program and the Toyota Foundation.
Currently Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Ms. Tsing was educated at Yale University (B.A., 1973) and Stanford University (M.A., 1976; Ph.D., 1984). On receiving her doctoral degree she served as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder (1984-86) and as an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (1986-89), before joining the faculty at UC Santa Cruz. She has also been a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, Harvard University, and Aarhus University in Denmark. In 1994-95, she was a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
Ms. Tsing is a member of the American Anthropological Association, the American Ethnological Society, and the Association for Asian Studies.