Michael Hathaway

Professor of Anthropology
Sociology & Anthropology


Dr. Michael Hathaway is Professor of Anthropology, Associate Member of the School for International Studies, and the Director of SFU’s David Lam Centre for Asian Studies. A Guggenheim Fellow, his work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, Social Science Research Council, National Science Foundation, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and Toyota Foundation, among others.

His first research project examines 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).

His second major project explores 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. This project is part of the Matsutake Worlds Research Group, with Tim Choy, Lieba Faier, Miyako Inoue, Shiho Satsuka and Elaine Gan. The team explores the more-than-human social worlds this mushroom engenders in Canada, the United States, China, and Japan.

Michael is currently working on two more major projects and seeking interested graduate students to join his research teams. One of these current projects, is an Indigenous-majority led collaboration with Professors Aynur Kadir (Uyghur), Rick Colbourne (Anishinaabe) and Glen Coulthard (Yellowknives Dene), as well as Doctoral student Cheyanne Connell (Dunne-Za Cree). It 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.

The other current project 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.


PhD (Anthropology), University of Michigan
MA (Anthropology), University of Michigan
BA Hons. (Anthropology & Environmental Studies), University of California

Areas of Interest

China; social studies of science; globalization; Indigeneity; postcolonial theory; history and anthropology; social movements (Indigenous, social justice and environmental); gender studies; critical studies of development; critical studies of race and racial formation; multispecies ethnography, more-than-human studies.

Select Publications


Peer-Reviewed Articles and Book Chapters

  • 2022 [With Suzanne Barber] “China’s Pet Activists: Using Moral Arguments and    Epidemic Concerns to Make Space for Animal Rights.” Invited article for a special issue on Animals and Epidemics in Asia, in International Review of Environmental History, edited by Fa-ti Fan. 8 (1): 63-802016 
  • 2018 “Elusive Fungus? Forms of Attraction in Multi-Species World-Making.” Social Analysis 62(4): 37-53. Republished, with some modifications, in Matsutake Worlds (Edited by Lieba Faier and Michael J. Hathaway), 2021.
  • 2017 “Discovering China’s Tropical Rainforests: Shifting Approaches to People and  Nature in the late Twentieth Century.” In The Nature State: Rethinking the History of Conservation. Edited by Claudia Maria Leal Leon, Matthew Kelly, and Wilko Graf von Hardenberg. New York: Routledge, 176-193.
  • 2016 “Chinese Indigenous Peoples? How Global Environmentalism Unintentionally Smuggled the Notion of Indigeneity into China.” Humanities 5(3): 54. Doi:10.3390/h5030054.
  • 2016 “Animals as Historical Actors? Southwest China's Wild Elephants and the Worlds they Shape.” In Methodological Challenges in Nature-Culture and Environmental History Research. Edited by Jocelyn Thorpe, Stephanie Rutherford, and L. Anders Sandberg. New York: Routledge.
  • 2016 “Rethinking the Legacies of ‘Subsistence Thinking’ ” for Subsistence Under Capitalism: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Edited by James Murton, Dean Bavington and Carly Dokis. Montreal and Kingston: McGill and Queens University Press, 234-253.
  • 2016 Review of Tuner, S, ed. 2013. Red Stamps and Gold Stars: Fieldwork Dilemmas in Upland Socialist Asia. Journal of Asian Studies 75(1): 210-211.
  • 2015 “Wild Elephants as Actors in the Anthropocene: The Role of Non-humans in Shaping Animal Welfare Movements.” In Animals in the Anthropocene: Critical Perspectives on Non-human Futures. Edited by Dinesh Wadiwel, Nikki Savvides, Agata Mrva-Montoya, Fiona Probyn-Rapsey, Chris Degeling, Matthew Chrulew, Madeleine Boyd, and Celeste Black. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 221-242.
  • 2015 “Wild Commodities and Environmental Governance: Transforming Lives and Markets in China and Japan.” Conservation and Society. 12(4): 398-407.
  • 2014 Global Environmental Winds: Chinese legacies of an ostensibly North American creation. Anthropology and Environment Society. Invited submission.
  • 2014 “Transnational Matsutake Governance: Endangered Species, Contamination, and the Reemergence of Global Commodity Chains for Mapping Shangri-la: Nature, Personhood and Polity in the Sino-Tibetan Borderlands. Edited by Chris Coggins and Emily Yeh. Seatte: University of  Washington Press, 153-173.
  • 2012 The Politics of Making Biocultural Diversity in China. Rachel Carson Center Perspectives: 37-41.
  • 2011 Preliminary Observations on Matsutake Worlds in Yunnan. Edible Fungi of China 3 (Supplement): 114-117. [Also translated into Chinese].
  • 2011 “The Rise and Fall of the Indigenous in Southwest China.” In Anthropology of Extinction: A View to Life on the Brink. Genese Sodikoff, Editor.   Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 103-126.
  • 2010 “The Emergence of Indigeneity: Public Intellectuals and an Indigenous Space in Southwest China.” Cultural Anthropology.
  • 2010 “Global Environmental Encounters in Southwest China Fleeting Intersections and ‘Transnational Work’.” The Journal of Asian Studies.
  • 2009 “Postcolonial Science Studies and the Making of Matsutake Science in China.” American Ethnologist. 36(2): 393-397.
  • 2009 Co-author of chapter, “Strong Collaboration as a Method for Multi-sited Ethnography: On Mychorrizal Relations.” In Multi-sited Ethnography: Theory, Praxis, and Locality in Contemporary Social Research. Mark-Anthony Falzon, Editor. New York: Routledge, 197-214.

Awards & Funding

  • Project: Matsutake Worlds
    Funding: Toyota Foundation
    Involvement: Co-Investigator
    Institution of Co-Investigator(s): Tim Choy (University of California, Davis), Lieba Faier (University of California, Los Angeles), Miyako Inoue (Stanford University), Shiho Satsuka (University of Toronto), Anna Tsing (University of California, Santa Cruz)
  • Project: The Emergence of Indigenous Knowledge: Gender, Generation, and Markets in China
    Funding: SSHRC
    Involvement: Principal Investigator

Currently Teaching