Sophie Chao wins 2024 ASAA ECR Book Prize

Sophie Chao wins 2024 ASAA ECR Book Prize

Sophie Chao’s book, In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua (Duke University Press 2022), has been selected by the ECR Prize Committee as the winner of the 2024 ASAA ECR Book Prize.

This year’s ECR Prize Committee included Professor Julian Millie (Monash), Professor Mina Roces (UNSW) and Professor Kaori Okano (La Trobe), and was supported by Dr Minerva Inwald (UNSW).

The Committee provided the following citation of the winning book:

In the Shadow of Palms looks at the world from the perspective of a forest-dwelling Papuan community, the Marind. Paying close attention to the forest environment that shapes the Marind’s material and symbolic realities, Sophie Chao engages the reader in a heart-wrenching account of two major phenomena of our times. They are the destruction of forest environments that provide homes to humans as well as non-human species, and secondly, the unstoppable spread of capitalism facilitated by the legal environment of the contemporary nation state. The Marind’s livelihoods are threatened by the Indonesian government’s conflation of destructive agricultural policies with economic progress. Chao reveals how sovereign power and economic actors intertwine as they encroach on the lifeways and resources of this vulnerable population.

The committee members were unanimous in their selection of the winner of the 2022-2023 Early Career Book Prize. We all felt that Sophie Chao’s account might open the eyes of many to the critical need for giving priority to ecosystems in planning for prosperous and flourishing human and non-human futures. This text inspires us to learn from human lifeways that engage with their ecological surrounds, suggesting models different to the prevailing one of human dominance. The committee was also struck by the boldness of Chao’s fieldwork. In the Shadow of Palms made us reflect on the tendency to regard doctoral fieldwork as a routine element of the business of academia. Chao committed herself to a fieldwork program that was risky and challenging. The results remind us that outstanding research can be produced through imagination, boldness and persistence.”

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