HoW: History on Wednesday seminar series – 22 May
Sophie Chao | University of Sydney
“Eating and Being Eaten”: Gastro-Politics in a West Papuan Village”
This paper explores the cultural meanings of hunger and satiety among indigenous Marind in the Indonesian-controlled region of West Papua. I begin by describing the nourishing qualities attributed by Marind to sago and other forest-derived foods in light of their associations with place-making, multispecies sociality, and collective memory. I then investigate how agro-industrial expansion and commodified foodways provoke conflicting forms of hunger among Marind – hunger for sago, ‘plastic’ foods, money, and the flesh of other humans. At the same time, Marind see themselves as subjected to the hunger of threatening ‘others’: corporations, roads, cities, and monocrop oil palm. Finally, I examine how villagers interpret the prevalence of hunger in light of indigenous spiritual beliefs, the political history of West Papua, Catholic notions of martyrdom, and the association of hunger with a ‘modern’ way of life. The paper invites attention to hunger and satiety as culturally constructed, politically situated, and morally charged categories of experience, whose significance may draw from yet also transcend, biophysical conceptions of hunger defined in terms of nutritional deficiency and food deprivation. In particular, I suggest that Marinds’ ambivalent self-positioning as both the ‘eaters’ and the ‘eaten’ constitutes a perceptive, if troubling, critique, of capitalism in both its attributes and effects.
Sophie Chao joined the History Department at the University of Sydney in March 2019. Dr. Chao received her PhD in Social Anthropology from Macquarie University in February 2019. She holds a BA in Oriental Studies and a Masters in Anthropology from Oxford University. Her doctoral thesis, which received a Vice-Chancellor’s Commendation, was based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Indonesian West Papua, where she investigated the socio-environmental impacts of monocrop oil palm plantations among indigenous forest-dwelling communities. Prior to her doctoral studies, Dr. Chao undertook extensive research on human rights and agribusiness in Southeast Asia as a member of international Indigenous rights organization Forest Peoples Programme. Her postdoctoral project will weave together social science methods (including history), science and technology studies, and biomedicine to examine the nutritional and health impacts of agribusiness on humans and their environments across the tropical belt. Dr. Chao is also interested in research development more generally and looks forward to engaging in inter-disciplinary collaboration of the Department of History and FASS (more generally) with the Charles Perkins Centre.
The Department of History hosts a lively departmental research seminar series. Everyone is welcome to attend.
HoW will be held in the Woolley Common Room
Woolley Building A22
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The Department of History is part of the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry (SOPHI)