The 2024 Iain McCalman Lecture

Multispecies mourning: grief and resistance in an age of ecological undoing
As climate change intensifies and resource extraction erodes complex ecosystems, many people are experiencing profound grief over the loss of species, landscapes and their cultural connections. Environmental anthropologist, Dr Sophie Chao, presents the 2024 Iain McCalman Lecture exploring the Indigenous Marind People’s practice of ‘multispecies mourning’ in West Papua. Join us in exploring how commemorating lives lost and forging multispecies solidarities can be an act of resistance to the ongoing ecological upheaval.

The Iain McCalman Lecture celebrates SEI co-founder and former co-director Iain McCalman’s dedication to fostering and pioneering multidisciplinary environmental research. The lectures aim to highlight the work of early to mid-career researchers working across disciplinary boundaries to impact both scholarship and public discourse.

This year, Dr Sophie Chao will present the lecture entitled, Multispecies mourning: grief and resistance in an age of ecological undoing.


We inhabit an age of ecological unmaking; wherein industrial processes are undermining conditions of life at a planetary scale. In this lecture, Dr Sophie Chao considers how mourning has become a necessary disposition of our times: one that enables us to create and commemorate connections by recognising the vulnerability and finitude of non-human others. Dr Chao does so by drawing on philosophies, practices, and protocols of “multispecies mourning” enacted by Indigenous Marind People in the Indonesian-occupied region of West Papua, where mass deforestation and monocrop oil palm expansion are undermining communities’ intimate and ancestral relations to forest landscapes and lifeforms. This lecture specifically examines three emergent practices of multispecies mourning on the Papuan capitalist frontier – the weaving of sago bags as a form of collective healing, the creation of songs prompted by encounters with roadkill, and the transplanting of bamboo shoots as part of customary land reclaiming activities. Multispecies mourning, Dr Chao argues, offers potent avenues for Marind to memorialize the loss of lives and relations prompted by capitalist incursions and attendant environmental crises. At the same time, these multispecies mournings constitute forms of active resistance and creative refusal in the face of extractive capitalism’s ecocidal logic. Bringing together interconnected plants, people, and places, multispecies mourning offers pathways for multispecies solidarities in the midst of capitalist extraction and violence.

Read more about Dr Sophie Chao’s research in her most recent book titled In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua.


Image of Dr Sophie Chao

Sophie Chao is a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award Fellow and Lecturer in the Discipline of Anthropology at the University of Sydney. Her research investigates the intersections of Indigeneity, ecology, capitalism, health, and justice in the Pacific. Chao is author of In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua and co-editor of The Promise of Multispecies Justice. At the University of Sydney, Chao co-leads the Sydney Environment Institute’s Biocultural Diversities Research Theme with Thom van Dooren. She previously worked for the Forest Peoples Programme in Indonesia, supporting the rights of forest-dwelling Indigenous peoples to their customary lands, resources, and livelihoods. She is of Sino-French heritage and lives and works on unceded Guringai lands.


Header image: Woman resting under an oil palm tree. By Izlan Somai via Shutterstock ID: 633942170.

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