Sydney anthropologist wins Critical Anthropology Book Award

28 September 2023
Arts and Social Sciences academic takes home prestigious prize
Dr Sophie Chao from the School of Social and Political Sciences has received an Honorable Mention from the Association for Legal and Political Anthropology (APLA).
Dr Sophie Chao

Awarded as part of the APLA’s Book Prize in Critical Anthropology, Dr Chao received the award for her work, ‘In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua’ (Duke University Press, 2022).

The Association for Legal and Political Anthropology (APLA) is a section of the American Anthropological Association (the world’s largest anthropological organization) that is committed to the critical study of politics and law.

The Book Prize in Critical Anthropology is awarded annually by the APLA to a work “that best exemplifies creativity and rigor in the ethnographic exploration of politics, law, and/or their interstices.”

The Committee described the book as a “vividly drawn portrait of a peopled ecology” and “exemplary of the breadth and depth of contemporary political anthropology.” They further commended the work as exemplifying how anthropology can deal with “urgent and alarming problems” such as “climate change, the destruction of Indigenous knowledge systems, and the human and non-human forms of the new capitalist frontiers.”

The social and environmental impacts of plantation proliferation on Indigenous communities form the core of Dr Chao’s book, which takes a deeper look at the Indonesian-occupied region of West Papua.

Grounded in long-term investigative and ethnographic fieldwork in West Papua, In the Shadow of the Palms documents how the Marind people experience, theorize, and contest the adverse impacts of monocrop projects on their multispecies lifeworld.

In doing so, it uncovers how Indigenous philosophies, practices, and protocols of multispecies care and kinship are vital in forging less violent distributions of suffering in an age of ecological unravelling, when conditions of life are being undermined at a planetary scale.

“The recognition of In the Shadow of the Palms’ empirical and political significance comes at a critical juncture, when Indigenous Papuans’ struggles to protect their environments, cultures, and futures face intensifying pressure from state and corporate actors,” says Dr Chao.

“Sharing stories of Indigenous struggle and resistance, as the book attempts to do, will, I hope, help raise awareness among scholarly and general publics alike of the challenges posed by agro-industrial developments on the places and peoples most directly and direly affected on the ground.”

In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua was published in June 2022. It was awarded the Duke University Press Scholars of Color First Book Award in 2021. The doctoral thesis upon which the book draws was the recipient of the Australian Association for Asian Studies John Legge PhD Thesis Prize (2020) and the Australian Anthropological Society Best PhD Thesis Prize (2019). For more information, visit Duke University Press.

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