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A new open access special issue on plastics in Asia has been published in The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies. In this special issue, the authors look at four ethnographically rich cases of plastics as they are incorporated into Asian societies. The areas they cover are geographically diverse. Some are rural, such as the northern herding communities in Mongolia and the Cham dancers of Sikkim. Others are in small urban areas, such as the Himalayan circumambulatory routes, or larger cities, such as Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar or the megacities of Chengdu and Mumbai. In all of these cases, plastics are radically influencing lives and connecting them, in various ways, to the material realities that characterise current forms of globalisation.

Gauri Pathak examines how during the Covid-19 pandemic in Mumbai, some plastic-wary peoples have adopted moderated positions, balancing fears about toxicity against immediate concerns regarding infection. Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia describes how the changing materialities of ritual Cham masks in Sikkim inflect the action of purification rituals with concerns of material pollution. Björn Reichhardt and Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko investigate how the encouraged use of plastics to package and distribute dairy are occasioning new ways of interacting with microbial life in Northern Mongolia, with a significant and unknown effect on longstanding human/microbial symbioses. And Trine Brox traces how plastics can become the skin of religion, forming the foundation for mimetic copies of important Buddhist teachers, providing a barrier to protect the sacred from disintegration and creating troublesome materialities of the sacred after specified use.

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Trine Brox