environmental anthropologist & multispecies ethnographer

SOPHIE CHAO

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hello and welcome to morethanhumanworlds

I am an environmental anthropologist interested in the intersections of capitalism, ecology, Indigeneity, health, and justice in the Pacific. My theoretical thinking is inspired by interdisciplinary currents including the environmental humanities and Science and Technology Studies, as well as Indigenous, Postcolonial, and Critical Race Studies. I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Sydney, where I will assume the position of Discovery Early Career Research Award Fellow and Lecturer in Anthropology in March 2022. 

Prior to my PhD, I worked for the international Indigenous rights organization Forest Peoples Programme in the United Kingdom and Indonesia. I have also undertaken consultancies for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations. I am currently Secretary on the Executive Committee of the Australian Anthropological Society, Co-Convenor of the Australian Food, Society, and Culture Network, and Co-Convenor of the Multispecies Justice HDR/ECR Collective.

I am keen to forge meaningful collaborations and conversations with Indigenous and decolonial academics, artists, and activists in Australia and beyond, towards a better understanding of and relation to, morethanhuman worlds. For more, check out the morethanhuman matters interview series, or subscribe to the mailing list.

why morethanhumanworlds?

 We live in an era in which humans have become the single most influential geological force on the planet. This epoch, coined the Anthropocene, is also one of mass species extinction, ecological destruction, and precarious futures for humans and for the myriad other-than-human lifeforms that our existence and wellbeing depend upon. Addressing the anthropogenic crisis will require nothing less than recognizing and protecting the morethanhuman worlds that we inherit, inhabit, and eventually pass on.

Morethanhuman worlds encompass plants, animals, elements, climates, and differently situated human communities that unequally bear the burden of ecological ruin and repair. Importantly, morethanhuman worlds invite us to rethink the diverse entanglements of humans with otherthanhuman life, matter, and meaning. Making and remaking such morethanhuman worlds requires care, courage, creativity, and collaboration, as we work within and across species lines towards more livable shared futures.

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2021. “Eating and Being Eaten: The Meanings of Hunger among Marind.” Medical Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies in Illness and Health 40(7): 682 – 697. DOI:10.1080/01459740.2021.1916013. Read it here.

2021. “The Beetle or the Bug? Multispecies Politics in a West Papuan Oil Palm Plantation.” American Anthropologist 123(3): 476 – 489. DOI:10.1111/aman.13592.

Read it here.

 

 

2019. “Wrathful Ancestors, Corporate Sorcerers: Rituals Gone Rogue in Merauke, West Papua.” Oceania. 89(3): 266 – 283. DOI:10.1002/ocea.5229. Read it here.

2018. “In the Shadow of the Palm: Dispersed Ontologies among Marind, West Papua.” Cultural Anthropology. 33(4): 621 – 649. DOI:10.14506/ca33.4.08.  Read it here.

 


 

selected publications

 

 

 

trailer coming soon

 2022. “Extraction, Extinction, Emergence: (Un)Worlding the Plantationocene.” eTropic: electronic journal of studies in the tropics. Forthcoming.
 

Coming out in June 2022 with Duke University Press

Duke University Press Scholars of Color First Book Award recipient

 

Praise

 

“The stories Sophie Chao tells in this amazing book are mesmerizing, and her interpretation of them is clear and powerful. She makes a major contribution to the intersection of multispecies and posthumanist scholarship and critical BIPOC studies in ways that could shape imaginations both in and beyond the academy. Brilliant, insightful, and meticulous, In the Shadow of the Palms will be an influential and important book.” — Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, coeditor of Feral Atlas: The More-than-Human Anthropocene

“Raising fundamental questions about ethnographic practice, theory, and activism, Sophie Chao offers a truly new examination of human-plant relations that pushes us forward in how we imagine, understand, and narrate these forms of relation. This excellent and beautifully written book, which is at points both heart-wrenching and joy producing, makes a field-changing contribution to anthropology, human-animal studies, political ecology, environmental humanities, and postcolonial studies.” — Paige West, author of Dispossession and the Environment: Rhetoric and Inequality in Papua New Guinea

For more information about this forthcoming book, click here.

 

 

 

trailer coming soon

 2022. “Plantation.” Environmental Humanities. Forthcoming.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2021. “Children of the Palms: Growing Plants and Growing People in a Papuan Plantationocene.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 27(2): 245 - 264. DOI:10.1111/1467-9655.13489. Read it here.

 

2020. “A Tree of Many Lives: Vegetal Teleontologies in West Papua.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory. 10(2): 514 – 529. DOI:10.1086/709505. Read it here.

2019. “The Plastic Cassowary: Problematic “Pets” in West Papua.” Ethnos. 84 (5): 828 – 848. DOI:10.1080/00141844.2018.1502798. Read it here.

2018. “Seed Care in the Oil Palm Sector.” Environmental Humanities. 10(2): 421 – 446. DOI:10.1215/22011919-7156816. Read it here.

 

 2017. “There Are No Straight Lines in Nature”: Making Living Maps in West Papua.” Anthropology Now. 9(1): 16 – 33. DOI:10.1080/19428200.2017.1291014. Read it here. 

 

 

 

trailer coming soon

 2021. “Can There Be Justice Here? Indigenous Experiences from the West Papuan Oil Palm Frontier.” Borderlands 20(1): 11 – 48. DOI:10.21307/borderlands-2021-002. Read it here.
 

 

 

 

trailer coming soon

2021. “We Are (Not) Monkeys: Contested Cosmopolitical Symbols in West Papua.” American Ethnologist 48(3): 225 – 230. DOI:10.1111/amet.13023. Read it here.
 

 

 

 

trailer coming soon

2021. “Decolonising Climate Change: A Call for Beyond-Human Imaginaries and Knowledge Generation.” With Dion Enari. eTropic: electronic journal of studies in the tropics. 20(2): 32 – 54. DOI:10.25120/etropic.20.2.2021.3796. Read it here.
 

 

 

 

trailer coming soon

2021. “Gastrocolonialism: The Intersections of Race, Food, and Development in West Papua.” The International Journal of Human Rights. DOI:10.1080/13642987.2021.1968378. Read it here.
 

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in the media

SHOULD INDONESIA RELOCATE ITS CAPITAL?

 

Sydney experts comment on Indonesia's rapid-fire plan to move its capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan, Borneo by 2024. 21 January 2022.

BOOK REVIEW: PLANTATION LIFE

 

A review of Tania Murray Li and Pujo Semedi's new book, Plantation Life: Corporate Occupation in Indonesia's Plantation Zone (Duke University Press), published in Inside Indonesia. 10 January 2022.  

ON SUBJECTS OF INTERGENERATIONAL JUSTICE

A reflection on Dr Christine Winter's new book, Subjects of Intergenerational Justice (Routledge 2021), published by the Sydney Environment Institute. 15 December 2021.