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The Thing in a Jar: Mushrooms and Ontological Speculations in Post-Yugoslavia

By Larisa Jasarevic

Cite As:
Jasarevic, Larisa. 2015. “The Thing in a Jar: Mushrooms and Ontological Speculations in Post-Yugoslavia”. Cultural Anthropology 30 (1):36-64.


This essay thinks with things that ferment medical remedies in recycled jars and issue exuberant surpluses across kitchens in Bosnia and ex-Yugoslavia. While the jars are handled under the preferred sign of the mushroom and brewing recipes include instructions on non-commercial exchange, the nature of the things in the jar remains vague. Brewing in the kitchens and circling as gifts are buoyant life-forms that alter their hosts, inspire zones of unexpected connection and relational innovation, and direct home trials and ontological speculations around some burning, practical questions: How best to relate to the mushroom? With whom should one relate via the mushroom, and how? The texts explores the fungal materialities and pluripotencies with an ear for popular experiments, teasing out the banal as well as charmed interplay between imagination and association, knowledge and experience. I join the conversation on new materialisms and step into spaces of being and relating across formal differences, but do so in the idiom of kitchen fermentations rather than multispecies or multiethnic relations to attend to the kinds of things that act and inspire wonder outside ready-made rubrics and analytics.


ontologies; mushrooms; politics of things; popular medicine; efficacy; exchange