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Circularity and Enclosures: Metabolizing Waste with the Black Soldier Fly

By Amy Zhang

Cite As:
Zhang, Amy. 2020. “Circularity and Enclosures: Metabolizing Waste with the Black Soldier Fly.” Cultural Anthropology 35, no. 1: 74–103.


This essay traces a scientific pilot project to transform the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) into a biotechnology to treat urban organic waste in accordance with the dominant cultural logics of an ecologically modern approach to waste management in contemporary China. A principle of urban waste management, circularity, and a spatial logic of urban living, enclosures, condition the scientific intervention that promises to harness animal metabolic labor as a biotechnology and a waste infrastructure that can be adapted to the urban ecologies of Guangzhou. While scientists emphasize the natural proclivities of insect metabolism to transform waste into value, my ethnographic research illustrates that the practice of aligning animal metabolism with urban metabolism is anything but natural or automatic. Together, circularity and enclosure, as guiding logics of waste management in Chinese ecological modernization, uphold a fiction of biocapital; they create the illusion that nature generates value and remediates environments without human intervention while mystifying and naturalizing the appropriation of nature and labor in the new green city.


本文研究中国科学家利用黑水虻分解餐厨垃圾生物技术的实验项目。昆 虫学家们希望,能让这一项目符合中国生态现代化垃圾处理理念,同时可以在现代化封闭式的居住社区中使用。昆虫学家强调,运用昆虫的代谢系 统来处理餐厨垃圾,既符合广州城市垃圾设施生态循环化的理念,也可利 用昆虫的天然生命周期將废物转变成资本。但人类学研究显示,昆虫的代 谢系統不可能与都巿垃圾循环規律自动匹配。在这个项目中,两个概念-循 环和封闭,仅仅是由生命资本打造生命经济的美好愿望。沒有人的介入, 只根据昆虫自然的生命周期的循环就能产生价值,这种理论混淆了生物能 与劳动力在发展新型綠色城市中的作用.


waste; metabolism; cities; the circular economy; multispecies ethnography; China; urban political ecology; biocapital; 垃圾; 代谢系统; 城市; 循环经 济; 多物种民族志; 中国; 都市政治生态学; 生物资本