Gender and Cultural Studies seminar series 13 September – School of Humanities Gender and Cultural Studies seminar series 13 September – School of Humanities

Gender and Cultural Studies seminar series 13 September

Plastic Pets in the West Papuan Plantationocene

In the West Papuan district of Merauke, rampant deforestation and monocrop oil palm expansion are driving scores of animals to human settlements in search of shelter and subsistence. Far from being nurtured and cherished as pets, however, these creatures give rise to widespread pity, aversion, and anxiety among indigenous Marind communities who have become their carers. In this paper, I examine how ecological conversions in West Papua reconfigure the moral and material relations of humans to animals, and their political implications for indigenous Marind themselves. Marind pity village animals because they lose their ‘wildness’ and behave like human settlers, whom Marind consider alien because of their ‘modern’ lifestyle and non-Papuan origins. These transformations evoke to Marind their own experiences of political oppression and ethnic domination as coerced subjects of the Indonesian state. However, domesticates also appear to enjoy living in the village and refuse to return to the wild. Similarly, many Marind are drawn by the promises of modernity and have given up hope for political freedom. Furthermore, Marind themselves replicate the oppressive role of the state over their lives by subjecting animals to human control. In this light, I argue that domesticates, as ‘matter out of place’ in the village environment, provoke pity and anxiety because they offer an all too faithful reflection of the ambiguous condition of their keepers.

Sophie Chao is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry and the Charles Perkins Centre. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from Macquarie University and previously worked for international indigenous rights organization Forest Peoples Programme. Sophie’s research explores the intersections of capitalism, ecology, and indigeneity in Indonesia, with a particular focus on changing interspecies relations in the context of deforestation and agribusiness development. Her broader research interests include human-plant relations, multispecies ethnography, race and human difference, biocapitalism, colonial and postcolonial studies, post-humanism, and phenomenology. Sophie’s current research explores the impacts of climate change on indigenous foodways and on indigenous phenomenologies of hunger and satiety.


The Department of Gender and Cultural Studies hosts a lively departmental research seminar series. Participants include staff, associates and postgraduate students from the department, as well as presenters from other University of Sydney departments and from outside, both nationally and internationally.

Please join us after the seminar for drinks at the Holme Courtyard Bar

Everyone is welcome to attend.

2019 Seminar Series convenors:
Thom van Dooren and Shawna Tang
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Sep 13 2019


2:30 pm - 4:00 pm


This event is free


Old Geology Lecture Theatre


Gender and Cultural Studies
+61 2 9351 2759

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