SOPHIE CHAO

Environmental anthropologist & multispecies ethnographer

Hello and welcome to morethanhumanworlds

 

I am a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry. As an environmental anthropologist, my research explores the intersections of capitalism, ecology, and Indigeneity in the Pacific. In particular, I'm interested in the changing relationships between plants and people across Indigenous, corporate, and scientific contexts. My theoretical thinking is inspired by interdisciplinary posthumanist currents including multispecies ethnography and the environmental humanities, as well as plant science and Science and Technology Studies. I'm now embarking on a new project that will investigate the nutritional and cultural impacts of agribusiness on Indigenous food-based socialities, identities, and ecologies.

 

Prior to my PhD, I worked for international Indigenous rights organization Forest Peoples Programme in the United Kingdom and Indonesia. I have also undertaken consultancies for United Nations bodies including the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises.

I am currently Secretary on the Executive Committee of the Australian Anthropological Society, Co-Convenor of the Australian Food, Society, and Culture Network, Co-Convener of the Biopolitics of Science Research 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 morethanhumanworlds 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.

SELECTED PUBLICATIONS

Below are selected peer-reviewed articles published in anthropology and interdisciplinary journals, as well as pieces published in non-academic outlets including popular anthropology magazines and NGO reports.

 

For a complete list, please see my CV.

Peer Reviewed Manuscripts

In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua. Duke University Press. Forthcoming.

Eating and Being Eaten: The Meanings of Hunger in a West Papuan Village. In preparation.

Peer Reviewed Edited Volumes

The Promise of Multispecies Justice. With Eben Kirksey and Karin Bolender. Under contract with Duke University Press.

 

Peer Reviewed Articles

2021. “Children of the Palms: Growing Plants and Growing People in a Papuan Plantationocene.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 28(2). DOI: 10.1111/1467-9655.13489.

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

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

Peer Reviewed Book Chapters

2021. “Living in the Plantationocene: Insights from West Papua.” In Pountney, Laura, and Tomislav Maric (eds). Introducing Anthropology: What Makes Us Human?  Cambridge, M.A.: Polity Press. Second edition. Forthcoming.

2021. “Sago: A Storied Species of West Papua.” In Vieira, Patricia, Monica Gagliano, and John C. Ryan (eds). The Mind of Plants. Santa FE, N.M.: Synergetic Press. Forthcoming.

2021. “Why Multispecies Ethnography Matters for Human Rights and the Climate.” In Earth Cries: A Climate Change Anthology. Sydney: Sydney University Press. Pp. 97 - 102.

 

Edited Volumes

2013. Conflict or Consent? The Palm Oil Sector at a Crossroads. Bogor: Forest Peoples Programme and SawitWatch. With Marcus Colchester. Available online.

2011. Divers Paths to Justice: Legal Pluralism and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Southeast Asia. Bogor: Forest Peoples Programme and Asia Indigenous Peoples Network. With Marcus Colchester. Available online.

2011. Oil Palm Expansion in Southeast Asia: Trends and Experiences of Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples. Bogor: Forest Peoples Programme, Samdhana Institute, and Centre for People and Forests. With Marcus Colchester. Available online.

 

Academic Essays

2021. "Ode to the Gilbert's Potoroo." Plumwood Mountain: An Australian Journal of Ecopoetry and Ecopoetics. Special issue: An Endangered Menagerie. Available online.

2021. “Wetness.” Art + Australia. 8(57.1): 94 – 97.

2021. Storying Extinction: A Reflection on Loss, Crisis, and Co-existence. Sydney Environment Institute. 27 January. Available online.

Podcasts

2020. “Nature in Culture: Multi-Sensory Mapping with the Marind People.” The Re(e)mergence of Nature in Culture Series. Sydney Environment Institute. 20 May. With Christine Winter. Available online. (reviewed by Christine Winter).

2020. “Culture, Food. and Environment: Indigenous Experiences of Hunger in West Papua.” Sydney Southeast Asia Centre Podcasts. 19 March. With Natali Pearson. Available online.

2020. “What Does Anthropology Sound Like: Activism.” With Cory-Alice André-Johnson and Bianca C. Williams. AnthroPod. Society for Cultural Anthropology. 20 January. Available online.

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SELECTED MEDIA FEATURES

Below are selected essays, interviews, and podcasts featured in national, international, print, and online media outlets.

MORE-THAN-HUMAN: AN INTERVIEW ON NATURE, CULTURE, AND INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE

25 Feb 2021

An interview on plant-human relations in West Papua, published by Kunsthistorisches Institute in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut. With Sanja Savkic.

Watch the original guest talk here

STORYING EXTINCTION

27 Jan 2021

A reflection on storying crisis, loss, and co-existence, inspired by the Sydney Festival Requiem panel, "An Endangered Menagerie," and published by the Sydney Environment Institute.

ASIAN CURRENTS INTERVIEW

15 Jan 2021

An interview on the 2020 John Legge Prize-winning thesis, "In the Shadow of the Palms: Plant-Human Relations among the Marind-Anim, West Papua" published by the Asian Studies Association of Australia's Asian Currents.

 

Upcoming Events

  • Growing Plants and Growing People in West Papua
    Online event
    Apr 17, 6:00 AM – 7:30 AM GMT+10
    Online event
    Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies and Migrations: A Global Grand Challenge, Cornell University
  • TBD
    Sharing Skin, Tasting Wetness
    Online Event
    23 - 25 September 2021
    Online Event
    Carleton University
  • TBD
    Just Multispecies Food Entanglements
    Online Event
    9 - 15 June 2021
    Online Event
    Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS), Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS), Canadian Association for Food Studies (CAFS), and Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN).
  • The Mind of Plants Symposium
    Online Event
    Apr 09, 3:30 PM GMT+10
    Online Event
    The Templeton World Charity Foundation, The Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), and the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra
 
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