Soft worms going wild, sericulture in interconnected socio-technical Asian worlds
(Université Libre de Bruxelles / Laboratoire d'anthropologie des mondes contemporains)
Paper short abstract:
Drawing on ethnographic data collected in the Thai silk industry, this paper aims to highlight how farmers and also researchers, governmental officers or policy makers seize various species of ‘domesticated’ and ‘wild’ silkworms in relation with biotechnological skills, regulations and appropriation
Paper long abstract:
Throughout history, sericulture crystallized economic and political stakes that are nowadays catalysed in biotechnologies, especially genetic engineering. This "technological revolution" bound together interconnected, but often contrasted, socio-technical worlds. Being fabricated in laboratories in order to be hardier to climate and animals that cause damage to them and / or to produce longer, more regular or whiter fibres in accordance with hypothetical market's expectations, varieties of Bombyx mori are grown and raised in farms, and gradually spread around the world. Like the silk they are producing, these varieties are considered as totally moulded by humans and are supposed to enter the agro-based industry as crops characterized by their passivity and their softness. Beside these so-called "domesticated" Bombyx mori, other species also produces silk that is collected by humans from abandoned cocoons. Entrepreneurs, researchers, policy makers and farmers develop a strong interest on these biological organisms and the silk they produce, both being qualified as "wild". In Thailand, which is renowned throughout the world for its silk threads and fabrics, these two kinds of species are nowadays competing. On a comparative basis drawing on ethnographic data collected in farms, laboratories and governmental offices along commodity chains that link Japan, India and Southeast Asia, this paper proposes to highlight ways by which worms are seized by farmers with regard to their mobilization by other practitioners such as researchers, governmental officers or policy makers and to question their discourses and practices that navigate between collaboration and confrontation, intimacy and regulation, softness and wildness.
Soils, seeds and capitalism: political agronomy and the intimacies of farming