Stabilizing Quality in Inner Mongolian Milk

Lecture | January 31 | 4 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Franck Bille, Visiting Scholar, UC Berkeley Mongolia Initiative

 Megan Tracy, Sociology and Anthropology James Madison University 

 Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS), UC Berkeley Mongolia Initiative

In this paper, I examine how actors attempt to transfer material and symbolic value and transfer notions of “human quality” across other notions of quality, such as product quality and the presumed caliber of particular places where production occurs. This transference of quality is embedded, for example, in notions that ethnic Mongolians are pre-disposed to produce a quality dairy product. I consider the manner in which various activities—such as milking cows, producing indigenous foods, and advertising— seek to stabilize notions of quality (as attached to particular objects and practices) via claims to notions of quality that are often presumed by actors to be stable and based on measurable characteristics that go into building a quality “X”—no matter what that X might be. In this exploration, I revisit notions of human quality—a focus of anthropological attention—and bring it into dialogue with work like Callon’s on how objects are qualified. These discussions are grounded in data collected within China’s domestic dairy industry in Inner Mongolia both before and after the industry’s epic product safety scandals.

 ieas@berkeley.edu, 510-642-2809