The Mushroom at the End of the World

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The Mushroom at the End of the World
The Mushroom at the End of the World.png
AuthorAnna Tsing
CountryUnited States
SubjectCapitalism, Commodity chain, Matsutake, Anthropocene
PublisherPrinceton University Press
Media typePrint

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins is a 2015 book by the Chinese American anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. The book describes and analyzes the globalized commodity chains of matsutake mushrooms.


The Mushroom at the End of the World uses the matsutake as a focal point for exploring what Tsing describes as the end of capitalist progress as ecological degradation and economic precarity proliferate in the twenty-first century.[1] The matsutake is considered a delicacy and is a mushroom that thrives in human-disturbed forests, foraged by humans in locales as diverse as Oregon, Yunnan, and Lapland.[2] In the book, Tsing follows foragers as they search for mushrooms, the traders who buy and sell them, and the Japanese consumers who especially prize them, largely as gifts.[2]

Tsing highlights both the resilience of the matsutake, which humans have found cannot be domesticated, and the entanglements between and co-dependency of different species—or multi-species "assemblages"—in not only surviving precarious and disturbed environments, but in creating new environments. On such assemblages, Tsing writes:[3]

…one could say that pines, matsutake, and humans all cultivate each other unintentionally. They make each other’s world-making projects possible. This idiom has allowed me to consider how landscapes more generally are products of unintentional design, that is, the overlapping world-making activities of many agents, human and not human. The design is clear in the landscape’s ecosystem. But none of the agents have planned this effect. Humans join others in making land-scapes of unintentional design. As sites for more-than-human dramas, landscapes are radical tools for decentering human hubris. Landscapes are not backdrops for historical action: they are themselves active. Watching landscapes in formation shows humans joining other living beings in shaping worlds.

The author draws on these themes not only to critique capitalism, but also to refute the notion of the utility of a single, "unitary critique" of capitalism, arguing instead for the importance of diverse and contingent responses.[4] Tsing writes that "[t]o understand capitalism (and not just its alternatives)… we can’t stay inside the logics of capitalists; we need an ethnographic eye to see the economic diversity through which accumulation is possible."[5]

Awards and recognition[edit]

The Mushroom at the End of the World has won numerous awards including the 2016 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology and the 2016 Gregory Bateson Book Prize from the Society for Cultural Anthropology.[6][7] The book was also named a Kirkus Reviews and Times Higher Education best book of 2015.[8][9]



  1. ^ Britton-Purdy, Jedediah (2015-10-08). "The Mushroom That Explains the World". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved 2020-11-11.
  2. ^ a b Smith, P. D. (2017-10-19). "The Mushroom at the End of the World review – life in capitalist ruins". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-11-11.
  3. ^ Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt (2015). The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton University Press. p. 152. ISBN 9781400873548.
  4. ^ Bollier, David (2017-07-28). "The Mushroom at the End of the World". Resilience. Retrieved 2020-11-11.
  5. ^ Tsing. Mushroom at the End of the World. p. 66.
  6. ^ "Past Victor Turner Prize Winners | Society for Humanistic Anthropology". Retrieved 2020-11-11.
  7. ^ "Prizes". Society for Cultural Anthropology. Retrieved 2020-11-11.
  9. ^ "Books of 2015". Times Higher Education (THE). 2015-12-24. Retrieved 2020-11-11.

Links and related reading[edit]