I study natural resource struggles and environmental intervention, particularly when it comes to conservation and resource rights initiatives; policy tools like Payments for Environmental Services (PES) and Reducing Emissions from forest Degradation and Deforestation (REDD+); and big infrastructure projects, like hydro-power dams. Most of my research is focused on Cambodia, where I have been active as a conservationist, ethnographer, and advocate since 2002.
My research builds upon extensive personal experience as a practitioner focusing on conservation and development issues in Cambodia, where I have worked for UNDP, IUCN and other global conservation NGOs.
I am currently focusing upon two main areas:
First, the politics and practice of global biodiversity conservation, as observed through project ethnography. I am currently completing a sole-authored book about this, looking at a high-profile international conservation project in the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia. This book draws from my 2009 PhD thesis (Geography, University of Cambridge) as well as more recent work. e.g. my 2020 TEDx talk Beyond Carbon Credits highlights what is problematic about global conservation in Cambodia.
Second, research from 2018 (with colleagues) will look at ‘rupture’, which is a way of exploring the social and political upheavals that result from major environmental changes, especially in relation to hydro-power dams and other land-based investments in mainland Southeast Asia. This multi-country project is funded by the Australian Research Council.
See Google Scholar profile.
Keywords: political ecology; conservation practice; land and resource rights; state formation; project ethnography; scholar-activism.
Sarah is an environmental social scientist, whose work has focused on Southeast Asia to date. Her current conceptual work looks at ‘rupture’, which is another way of thinking about crisis and upheaval. Rupture helps to explain the societal and environmental effects of COVID-19.
Sarah and colleagues recently wrote a short article in The Conversation about how this concept relates to COVID-19, alongside Australia’s Black Summer.
Research grants and projects
2018 ARC Discovery Project. Rupture: Nature-society transformations in Mainland Southeast Asia. Chief Investigators: Sango Mahanty, Sarah Milne and Keith Barney.
Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship, Wenner-Gren Foundation. (2015-2016) Saving nature? The politics and practice of international conservation in Cambodia
Collaborator on Australian Research Council Discovery grant: The political ecology of forest carbon – Mainland Southeast Asia’s new commodity frontier? led by Dr Sango Mahanty, The Australian National University (2012-2015)
Co-lead with C. Sandbrook (University of Cambridge), T. Sunderland and B. Powell (Centre for International Forestry Research) on DfID-funded grant entitled: The new agrarian change? Exploring the dynamic interplay between food security, commodity production, and land-use in tropical forest landscapes. I am conducting a critical analysis of land interventions that attempt to couple agricultural improvement and conservation in Cambodia and Indonesia, with an emphasis on food security issues for local communities, in collaboration with PhD students. (2013- 2014)
Improving governance, policy and institutional arrangements to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (Project leader Luca Tacconi, funded by ACIAR). I am investigating the opportunity costs and land tenure implications of avoided deforestation for small-holders and communities in Riau and Papua. (2010-2013)
- 2017-2018: Consultant: United Nations Development Program, Cambodia
- 2012-2014: Consultant: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Cambodia; & Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)
- 2012-2013: Technical Adviser, Wildlife Conservation Society, Cambodia (four months)
- 2010-2011: Social Development Director, Conservation International (part time)
- 2005-2008: General Sir John Monash Scholar
- 2002-2005: Community Program Manager, Conservation International, Cambodia
- 2001-2002: Research engineer, Centre for Appropriate Technology, Alice Springs
- ANTH8107 - Global Governance and the role of Multilateral Development Banks (semester 1)
- EMDV8009 - Asia-Pacific Environmental Conflicts (semester 2, with Dr K. Barney)
- EMDV8006 - Research Project (semester 2, 12 points or 24 point sub-thesis)
I am currently available to take on PhD students who are interested in political ecology topics in the Asia-Pacific region.