Learning to Make a Bouquet: Florist Experience, “Little Fresh”, and Qualia

Authors: Rui Sun  (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China)
Speaker: Rui Sun
Strand: Anthropological Linguistics
Session Type: General Session


This research situates in a florist training classroom in Dounan flower market, Yunnan Province, which locates the largest flower market in Asia. Yunnan grows a large percentage of the fresh-cut flowers consumed all over China. In recent years, established florists poured into Dounan to set up studios to recruit students who plan to become florists and operate flower shops. Easy access to and low cost of various flower materials in Dounan are main reasons for these florist training agencies offering courses which cater to the needs of not only learning to make bouquets as the main business of any florist’s but also how to do marketing, layouts, and customer interactions for one’s business.

When teaching how to make bouquets, instructors demonstrate several genres named “little fresh”, “Korean”, “Oriental”, or based on occasions, wedding decorations, table flowers for business meetings, or flower displays at receptions. Students then begin to practice their flower arrangement skills by imitating what they have observed from the demonstration. Drawing from currently flourishing discussions on qualia and anthropology of experience (e.g., Chumley and Harkness 2013; Harkness 2017), this paper delineates the interactions between flower arrangement teachers and students in navigating through desired qualia in arranging certain genres of flower works as they ought to be. Sensory modalities are invoked to achieve the “right clench”, the horizontal view, refreshing environment, a neat knot, and sharp packages.

“Little fresh”, for instance, is supposed to be arranged with flower materials with less color saturation, small petals, and a loose composition. However, aiming for this goal, the qualisign, students make perceivably distinct “little fresh” in the end. The lack of sophistication in flower arrangement skills only counts for part of the reason. When commenting on each other’s works, a fellow student pointed out, “you are what you make”, which ethnographically reveals the dynamic co-becoming processes of a florist and her works. Good florists-to-be are those who capture the emergent, unstable, and ineffable qualia as that of a “right clench”.

Keywords: Florist experience, Qualia, Flowers.