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Accepted Paper:

Caring for the silkworm: labour, affect and disease in sericulture practices  
Feixuan Xu (City University of Hong Kong)

Paper short abstract:

This essay explores the contingent caring relation between silkworms and Chinese farmers in feeding, hosting and doctoring practices. It analyses how proximity, chronic uncertainties, and silkworm’s biological, ecological and cultural attributes shape farmers’ caring labour, affect and knowledge.

Paper long abstract:

Silkworm has been a strenuous protagonist in sericulture for more than five thousand years, but farmers' hands-on practice of raising this insect has not yet been automated into assembly lines in factory farms. In Guangxi Province in China with the highest raw silk yield in the world, most farmers still keep silkworms within their own farmhouses, take care of those critters daily, and harvest the cocoons for a living. Hence the human-silkworm cohabitation in this physical and affective proximity cannot be reduced to the capitalist framework of chasing profit or accumulation of bio-capitals. This essay, therefore, aims to explore the ambivalent caring relation between silkworms and farmers through the lens of feminist care ethics and to elucidate how the silkworm’s biological, ecological and cultural attributes shape the forms and meanings of the farmers' caring practices, based on anthropological fieldwork at villages in Guangxi. This essay will analyse the ethnographic details on how farmers tinker with tensions among tedious toil and divergent temporalities in feeding labour, intimate sensations and distanced conservation in a shared space, and the analogous discourses and prescription logic in disease management etc., and the farmers' care of this docile but squeamish creature will be unpacked into trilateral roles of mothering, hosting and doctoring. The study will show how those chronic uncertainties in maintaining the wellbeing of silkworm enact constant, contingent and situated caring activities, and further argue that species boundaries in these caring entanglements are staggering metaphorically and materially.

Panel Heal07a
Responsible (well)being as liable relations I
  Session 1 Tuesday 30 March, 2021, -