Dr. Michael J. Hathaway is a Professor of Anthropology at Simon Fraser University (SFU), Associate Member of the School for International Studies, and the Director of SFU's David Lam Centre for Asian Studies. He is a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow and author of What a Mushroom Lives For (2022) and Environmental Winds (2013).
Hathaway is a cultural anthropologist with two central interests. First, he is deeply interested in China’s place in the modern world, looking at how little-known dynamics there have created world-spanning effects in surprising realms such as feminism, environmentalism, and Indigenous rights. His aim is to disrupt the typical assumptions that globalization emerges solely from the West. Second, Hathaway is doing what he can to foster a transformation in scientific understandings based on colonial assumptions of the natural world.
For a quarter-century, Hathaway has lived in, worked, and traveled in China and increasingly in Japan, where he has explored the entangled and emerging worlds of transnational environmentalism and Indigenous rights.
More recently, Hathaway has been exploring hidden histories of Indigenous-led activism across the Pacific Rim and how they have shaped the contemporary world.
Hathaway's first research project examined global environmentalism and the politics of Indigeneity. This research was based on multi-sited fieldwork in rural and urban Southwest China. It explored how local residents, Chinese scientists and expatriate conservationists forge new constellations of meanings, practices, and forms of governance in contemporary China. This work examines changing understandings of nature, social categories, and power. It was published as Environmental Winds: Making the Global in Southwest China (University of California Press, 2013).
Hathaway is currently working on two major projects and seeking interested graduate students to join his research teams. One of these current projects, in collaboration with Aynur Kadir, Rick Colbourne and Glen Coulthard, explores the rise of Indigenous networks in the Pacific Rim as a new way to understand how the Indigenous movement became global starting in the 1970s.
The team explores the legacies of a series of all-Indigenous delegations to China from Japan and from Canada. These trips, virtually lost to the written record, proved momentous, as Indigenous delegates returned to their home countries inspired by what they experienced. They began challenging state authority in unprecedented ways, crafting powerful texts that awakened a generation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to the ongoing colonial structures of society. What is perhaps least appreciated is how going to China helped delegates to reimagine themselves as global subjects who were connected to other Indigenous people, as part of what was called the “Fourth World.” In other words, this was part of the silent, often invisible work of fashioning “Indigenous people” as a transnational political category.
By hosting and feasting, they quietly stitched together the fabric of global Indigeneity, a category that was neither obvious nor pre-existing, but took tremendous initiative and creative activity to come into being. This perspective enlivens studies of Indigenous world-making elsewhere, attending to actions that precipitated shifts in consciousness and building relations across geographic and linguistic divides.
Multi-Species Studies and Decolonizing Western Science
Hathaway's second major project examined the global commodity chain of the matsutake, one of the world’s most expensive mushrooms, following it from the highlands of the Tibetan Plateau to the markets of urban Japan. In it, he asks what happens when we imagine “world-making” not to be capacity exclusive to humanity, but as a part of all organisms, including the seemingly humble fungus?
This work has culminated in a new book, called What a Mushroom Lives For: Matsutake and the Worlds They Make (Princeton University Press, 2022). It is the second volume in a trilogy, starting with Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton University Press, 2015). This project is part of the Matsutake Worlds Research Group.
Another current project of Hathaway's works towards the decolonization of Western science, and especially towards re-imagining forms of biological study. The project challenges the overemphasis on competition as the driving force of evolution and explores how alternative epistemologies might open up new perspectives and insights in biological research.
Experiments in Collaborative Anthropology
The Matsutake Worlds Research Group is an experiment in collaboration. The team explores the more-than-human social worlds this mushroom engenders in Canada, the United States, Finland, China, and Japan. The Matsutake Worlds Research Group includes Michael J. Hathaway (What a Mushroom Lives For, 2022), Anna Tsing (Mushroom at The End of The World, 2015), Tim Choy, Lieba Faier, Miyako Inoue, Shiho Satsuka and Elaine Gan. They study matsutake picking and the matsutake commodity chain, showing how diverse cultures and ecologies engage each other in the matsutake
trade. The Matsutake Worlds Research Group is interested in matsutake cultures and ecologies as multispecies worlds where life continues in the midst of great disturbances.
Forthcoming Project: Tumbling Ecologies
Three members of the Matsutake Worlds Research Group: Michael Hathaway, Tim Choy, and Shiho Satsuka (Mogu Mogu Mogu) have been invited by Anicka Yi Studios to edit a special volume for a forthcoming trilogy: Tumbling Ecologies: Algae, Bacteria, Fungi.
Mogu Mogu Mogu’s volume on Fungi explores these organisms’ capacity to create complex networks and shape-shift. In the absence of a nervous system, fungi demonstrate coordinated behaviors throughout their bodies and in relationship to the plants they have connected with, compelling us to think of intelligence in structural and cooperative terms. For humans, fungi can have profound psychological and physiological effects, causing intense hallucinations as with psilocybin, or reducing memory loss as with lion’s mane. Across the globe, cultures tend to be divided into those who revere fungi and those who fear them, mycophiles and mycophobes. Through the role they play as enabling almost every single plant to survive and as primary decomposers, fungi are deeply tied into ecological cycles of life and death. Their spores are omnipresent: in a human life, almost every breath contains fungal spores, which allow fungi to spread across continents and deep into almost every habitat on land and water. In writings and artworks from diverse fields, this volume will question fungi’s connective potential, as well as its associations in the human world: religious, computational, regenerative, aesthetic, and other.