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Golden Snail Opera: The More-than-Human Performance of Friendly Farming on Taiwan’s Lanyang Plain

By Yen-Ling Tsai, Isabelle Carbonell, Joelle Chevrier, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing

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Cite As:
Tsai, Yen-Ling, Isabelle Carbonell, Joelle Chevrier, and Anna Tsing. 2016. “Golden Snail Opera: The More-Than-Human Performance of Friendly Farming on Taiwan’s Lanyang Plain”. Cultural Anthropology 31 (4), 520-44. https://doi.org/10.14506/ca31.4.04.

Abstract

Combining video and performance-oriented text, this genre-bending o-pei-la is a multispecies enactment of experimental natural history. Our players consider the golden treasure snail (金寶螺 kim-pó-lê; Pomacea canaliculata and relatives; golden apple snail), first imported to Taiwan from Argentina in 1979 for an imagined escargot industry, but now a major pest of rice agriculture in Taiwan and across Asia. Whereas farmers in the Green Revolution’s legacy use poison to exterminate snails, a new generation of friendly farmers (友善小農; youshan xiaonong) in Taiwan’s Yilan County hand-pick snails and attempt to learn enough about their lives to insert farming as one among many multispecies life ways within the paddy. Drawing on a variety of knowledge sources, including personal experience, international science, social media, traditional calendars, and local understandings of ghosts and deities, these farmers construct an experimental natural history of both new and old paddy-field denizens. Their experiments self-consciously intersect with the investigations made by other species of the paddy field. Our article offers an ethnography of both kinds of experiments, human and nonhuman. Video and text together show the performative features of cross-species acquaintance. In the process, we contribute to debates about radical alterity, showing how anthropologists can do more than sort for difference: we can identify vernacular patches of practice that mix and juxtapose many ontological alternatives.

Keywords

experimental film; multispecies ethnography; friendly farming; golden apple snail; multiple ontologies; Taiwan