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Morel Tales

Morel Tales

The Culture of Mushrooming

Gary Alan Fine

ISBN 9780674089358

Publication date: 04/30/1998

In this thoughtful book, Gary Fine explores how Americans attempt to give meaning to the natural world that surrounds them. Although "nature" has often been treated as an unproblematic reality, Fine suggests that the meanings we assign to the natural environment are culturally grounded. In other words, there is no nature separate from culture. He calls this process of cultural construction and interpretation, "naturework." Of course, there is no denying the biological reality of trees, mountains, earthquakes, and hurricanes, but, he argues, they must be interpreted to be made meaningful. Fine supports this claim by examining the fascinating world of mushrooming.

Based on three years of field research with mushroomers at local and national forays, Morel Tales highlights the extensive range of meanings that mushrooms have for mushroomers. Fine details how mushroomers talk about their finds--turning their experiences into "fish stories" (the one that got away), war stories, and treasure tales; how mushroomers routinely joke about dying from or killing others with misidentified mushrooms, and how this dark humor contributes to the sense of community among collectors. He also describes the sometimes friendly, sometimes tense relations between amateur mushroom collectors and professional mycologists. Fine extends his argument to show that the elaboration of cultural meanings found among mushroom collectors is equally applicable to birders, butterfly collectors, rock hounds, and other naturalists.


  • As with the best of good sociology, we are quickly persuaded [in Morel Tales] that by studying seemingly esoteric behavior, mushroom hunting, we can learn about basic social processes. Examining the odd can lead to confrontation with what is central to human experience...Fine argues and illustrates with rich data that there is no nature without culture and no culture without particular social groups acting within concrete situations...A well-crafted sociological study, Morel Tales weaves together a well-developed grounded theory with interesting ethnographic description. .. Next time someone asks me 'What's so special about the way sociologists approach the world? What do sociologists have to offer?' I will recommend Morel Tales.

    —Robert Bogdan, Contemporary Sociology


  • Gary Alan Fine is Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University.

Book Details

  • 336 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press