'It's Scientific!': Play, Parody, and the Para-Ethnographic in Southwest China

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Play and games encourage persons to hold the world at a distance, while occasionally challenging its norms through parody, mimicry, and clowning, too. In this article, I offer new ethnography on drinking games among the Nuosu of Southwest China, who distribute penalty shots by injecting them directly into glasses with a syringe. While this revelry may evoke the recent Nuosu history of heroin (ab)use and HIV/AIDS, syringes are used in drinking games to parody the scientific writ large, which encompasses China’s modern nation-building approach, rationality, technological progress, biomedicine, hygiene, urban life, industry, precise standardized measurements, and even the human sciences, including anthropology, ethnology, and ethno-history. Offering two case studies in which Nuosu ethno-historians gesture to the scientific and the para-ethnographic during drinking games, I show that – like ethnography – their play is meant to encourage everyone to stretch the bounds of the occasion by adopting a reflexive stance towards it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-578
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI)
Issue number3
Early online date30 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


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