In this seminar, Sophie Chao will share insights from her book In the Shadow of the Palms, which examines the multispecies entanglements of oil palm plantations in West Papua, Indonesia. The book shows how Indigenous Marind communities understand and navigate the social, political, and environmental demands of the oil palm plant. Situating the plant and the transformations it has brought within the context of West Papua’s volatile history of colonization, ethnic domination, and capitalist incursion, Chao traces how Marind attribute environmental destruction not just to humans, technologies, and capitalism but also to the volition and actions of the oil palm plant itself. By approaching cash crops as both drivers of destruction and subjects of human exploitation, Chao re-thinks capitalist violence as a multispecies act. In the process, Chao centers how Marind fashion their own changing worlds and foreground Indigenous creativity and decolonial approaches to anthropology.
Sophie Chao is a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellow and Lecturer at the University of Sydney’s Department of Anthropology. Her research investigates the intersections of capitalism, ecology, Indigeneity, health, and justice in the Pacific region. Sophie Chao previously worked for Indigenous rights organization Forest Peoples Programme in Indonesia. She is co-editor of The Promise of Multispecies Justice (Duke University Press, 2022), with Karin Bolender and Eben Kirksey. She has published widely on the palm oil industry, the Plantationocene, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Southeast Asia. Chao’s current project explores the diverse perceptions, practices, and knowledges surrounding kangaroo-human relations in Australia and their environmental, economic, and ethical implications. For more information, visit www.morethanhumanworlds.com.