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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Feral Natures and Excremental Commodities: Purity, Scale, and the More-than-Human in Indonesia

  • Author(s): Cahill, Colin William
  • Advisor(s): Peterson, Kristin
  • et al.

Civet coffee, or kopi luwak as it is called in Indonesian, consists of coffee beans retrieved from the feces of civets, or cat-like, omnivorous, arboreal, nocturnal mammals. These beans are washed, processed much like any other coffee, and marketed as a luxury good. This dissertation describes the development of the civet coffee industry within the context of the broader coffee industry in Indonesia, and examines the unique relationships that are being formed between humans, civets, and coffee trees. This dissertation is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted over 15 months with civet coffee producers, coffee farmers, coffee agents, cafe owners, agricultural scientists, barista communities, and representatives from various government regulatory bodies across Indonesia.

Through an analysis of the production of an excremental commodity, this dissertation traces the articulation of forms of purity and cleanliness in a particular place and time. It describes how civets and coffee trees have been discussed as natural resources, and how the development and regulation of the industry reflects particular ideas about what nature is and isn’t, and what is and isn’t part of nature. By tracking understandings of purity, cleanliness, and ideas about nature, this dissertation illustrates how cultural concepts that are frequently treated as having stable, consistent meaning actually mean different things for different communities.

This dissertation is about the production of meaning within dynamic, changing sets of relations. But it is also about the materiality of coffee, civets, and farming communities, as they are involved in worlding and world-making projects that influence not just what it means to be a civet, a coffee tree, or a farmer; they influence what it is to be these things. Through this study of how civets, coffee trees, and Indonesian farmers are entangled in processes of co-producing each other, I argue for the continued re-evaluation of boundaries and boundedness. This dissertation presents messy stories of decomposition, erosion, instability, and vulnerability to challenge all-too-orderly depictions of the world and all-too-precise theories that privilege modernist sensibilities for coherence, boundaries, and stability in a world that is otherwise.

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