Congratulations to Sophie Chao

A message from the Chair of the Department, Professor Mark McKenna

Our post-doctoral research associate, Sophie Chao, was recently awarded the John Legge prize for the best thesis in Asian Studies from the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA). Sophie’s thesis also received the 2019 PhD thesis award of the Australian Anthropological Society.

I’ve included the ASAA citation below. On behalf of the History Department, I’d like to offer Sophie our warm congratulations for such a wonderful achievement.

All best wishes, Mark  

John Legge Prize for Best Thesis in Asian Studies (2019)

Winner: Sophie Chao, In the Shadow of the Palms: Plant-Human Relations Among the Marind-Anim, West Papua.  (Department of Anthropology, Macquarie University)
 
In this remarkable thesis, Sophie Chao provides a ground-breaking exploration and analysis of dynamic plant-human-capital relationships in West Papua. The study centres on the devastation wrought by state-sponsored agro-industrial capitalism in the form of oil palm plantations, as experienced and perceived by the Marind-Anim people of Merauke District. Beautifully written, theoretically sophisticated, and deeply empathetic, the study shows how a lethal process of botanical colonization has disrupted existing multispecies networks and reconfigured people’s ways of being in the world. The effects on places, persons, time, and indeed dreams are persuasively explained as interlinked processes of deterritorialization and detemporalization. Rooted in cultural anthropological methods and informed by post-humanist theory, the analytical approach incorporates insights from environmental humanities, science and technology studies, plant science, ethnobotany, political economy and more. The thesis is extremely ambitious in its conceptual and theoretical aims, and required a high degree of political and ethical sensitivity in the associated fieldwork. It has emphatically delivered on all fronts. It seems destined to inform and provoke productive debate over sustainable environmental, economic and social systems, in Indonesia and elsewhere.

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