Sophie Marie Helene Chao

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Sydney, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9942

Approve Date

October 24, 2019

Project Title

Chao, Sophie (Sydney, U. of) "Capitalism beyond the Human: The Multispecies World of Oil Palm"

Monocrop plantations are notorious for their ravaging impacts on forest biodiversity. Yet recent findings in ecological science point to diverse organisms that are finding ways to thrive in industrial monocultures. This project interweaves environmental anthropology, post-humanist theory, and plant science to explore the multispecies world of oil palm – one of the world’s most ubiquitous and controversial cash crops. Based on fieldwork in Merauke, West Papua, I will examine how monocrop ecosystems are shaped by the knowledge and practices of plant scientists and the biological attributes of oil palm as a species. I will also investigate how indigenous Marind conceptualize oil palm’s ecological relations and impacts against the backdrop of ongoing political colonization, ethnic domination, and capitalist incursion in West Papua. This research offers an innovative counterpoint to the characterization of plantations as capitalist formations engineered solely by and for humans. It creatively harnesses interspecies relations of domination and subordination in monocrop ecologies to rethink intra-species relations in West Papua, where indigenous groups are routinely treated as sub-human and killable before the law. In doing so, the project highlights the importance of attending equally to the politics within, and not just the poetics of, more-than-human relations in emergent capitalist natures.