Dr Sarah Milne

Inspiring women: Dr Sarah Milne

07 March 2018

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Sarah Milne is a Research Fellow at Crawford School of Public Policy. Sarah’s areas of expertise include human geography and anthropology.

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To mark International Women’s Day this year we are celebrating some of the professional and academic staff who make Crawford School Asia and the Pacific’s leading public policy school.

In this piece, we chat to environment and development scholar Dr Sarah Milne.

What inspired you to get into your field of research and why?

Becoming a researcher in my field was the result of a series of lucky accidents and inspirations. It was a long journey which threads through remote communities in outback Australia, the jungle in Cambodia and then Cambridge University. I’d always say that I was guided by a love of nature, a desire to protect that environment and a commitment to social justice and indigenous rights that has bought me here. So I’ve actually spent most of my career being a practitioner, rather than an academic – it’s hard for me to disentangle the two things!

Who is a woman in your field that you look up to?

There are some wonderful women out there, both here at the ANU, and further afield. I’ve been so inspired by the ideas and writings of three women in particular, who are all professors in North America: Nancy Peluso, Tania Li and Paige West. Somehow they have juggled families, relationships, remote field work in the Asia-Pacific and have still pushed the boundaries of scholarship and praxis. Their careful and rigorous work gives me much to look up to!

What is a teaching/research project you are currently working on that motivates you?

A group of us at the Crawford School (including AProf Sango Mahanty, Dr Keith Barney and Dr Phuc To) have just secured an ARC Discovery grant. We’ll be looking at people’s responses to dramatic social and environmental change in Southeast Asia, using the idea of ‘rupture’ – think ruptured socio-natures. We’ll be looking at struggles around big hydropower projects and how these are causing major political, social and environmental changes that need urgent attention.

What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of all the fieldwork that I’ve done in Cambodia over the last fifteen years. I have had to learn to speak Khmer, to function in remote indigenous villages, and at times, to be daring in finding out exactly what’s going on in these areas when it comes to resource and land dynamics. For me, the end game in all of this field work has been to support local communities to contest illegal logging and land grabs and to assert their own rights. In Cambodia this has been pretty risky and stressful at times.

What’s your advice to your younger self about choosing the right path and juggling life’s different demands?

I’m only just learning about the importance of ‘self-care.’ It’s easy to burn out when you’re an activist. You have lots of competing demands on your time, from book-writing to thesis-writing to and caring for little kids (who don’t necessarily sleep). I would probably say to my younger self: have faith that the path will unfold, and be kind to yourself along the way.

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