Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

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Foraging at the Edge of Capitalism

In this moment of economic and environmental breakdown, an unexpected source of income has gained in global importance: foraging. In Tibet and Nepal, scores of collectors rush to the mountains each spring to collect yartsagunbu—a rare mushroom that is more valuable than gold. In Siberia, “tuskers” scavenge for woolly mammoth ivory in the thawing permafrost. From Amazonia to Congo and Mongolia, artisanal miners extract precious minerals where transnational conglomerates have left or have not yet obtained a license. In the US, “Amazon nomads” tour foreclosed shops and sell their bounty online.

Broadly understood as practices of collecting, scavenging, and gleaning, foraging is a global phenomenon of our times. However, it only gains patchy attention in mainstream debates on conservation and development. What is missing is a conceptual understanding of foraging as a basic mode of subsistence and a form of socio-environmental entanglement. The objective of this project is to take on this task and work towards a comprehensive political ecology of foraging in the Anthropocene.

The project (2022–6) is funded by an ERC Consolidator Grant and led by Dr. Martin Saxer who is currently on a Heisenberg Position (DFG) at the RCC.