About Me

Eben Kirksey studies the political dimensions of imagination as well as the interplay of natural and cultural history.

EDUCATION
Ph.D. 2008 UC Santa Cruz
M.Phil. 2003 University of Oxford
B.A. 2000 New College of Florida

Princeton University hosted Dr. Kirksey as the 2015-2016 Currie C. and Thomas A. Barron Visiting Professor and he is currently an Executive Program Committee Member of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). He is currently Convener of Environmental Humanities and Co-Convener of the Masters in Environmental Management at UNSW Sydney. Eben Kirksey has published two books with Duke University Press—Freedom in Entangled Worlds (2012) and Emergent Ecologies (2015)—as well as one edited collection: The Multispecies Salon (2014).

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Obama: Do the right thing for West Papua

Republished in The Huffington Post and CounterPunch 


Barack Obama meeting with President Yudhoyono of Indonesia.
 Today five indigenous leaders in West Papua, the half of New Guinea under Indonesian rule, were charged with “treason.”  Hours ago they were each sentenced to three years in prison for peacefully protesting the government.  Barack Obama raised the issue of human rights in West Papua last November when he met with President Yudhoyono of Indonesia.  It is time for the President to once again raise his voice to support human rights in this seemingly remote territory.    


Obama’s interest West Papua stems, in part, from personal experiences growing up in Indonesia with his mother, Ann Dunham Soetoro, a cultural anthropologist.  In his autobiography, Dreams from My Father, he recalls a conversation with his step-father, Lolo Soetoro, who had just returned home after a tour of duty with the Indonesian military in West Papua.  Obama asked his step-father: “Have you ever seen a man killed?” Lolo responded affirmatively, recounting the bloody death of “weak” men.  West Papuan intellectuals and political activists, kin of the “weak” men killed by Lolo Soetoro, have read Obama’s autobiography with keen interest.  Even as many Americans have lost hope in their President, many West Papuans still embrace the message from the 2008 campaign, “Yes We Can.”  

Taking inspiration from the people of Tunisia who rose up to depose President Ben Ali last year, and the populist spirit that spread out from Tunisia with the Arab Spring, West Papuans are harboring seemingly impossible dreams.  After 50 years of living under a brutal Indonesian military occupation, West Papuans are hoping to reach a peaceful political solution to this conflict.  

Forkorus Yaboisembut moments before he was arrested.
 One West Papuan leader, Forkorus Yaboisembut, remains hopeful against all odds.  He was detained last October, moments after being elected President during the Papuan People’s Congress, and is among the men who were convicted today for “treason.”  Thousands rallied behind him, demanding independence from Indonesia, at this event that was peaceful by all accounts. As the Congress was concluding, the delegates were surrounded by some 500 Indonesian police and military personnel with a cordon of armored cars.  Scores of my friends, people who I know from working as a cultural anthropologist in West Papua, were in the crowd.  I had a sleepless night as I monitored Facebook and text messages from the other side of the world, following the developments in real time.  Markus Haluk, the leader of a Papuan youth group, sent a text message saying “in these next few moments we might see a massacre and a bloodbath.”


Videos circulating on YouTube show Indonesian troops firing assault rifles into a crowd from armored personnel carriers, while others pistol whip and kick delegates.  Unarmed civilians desperately tried to clamber into their cars while uniformed police officers and plain clothes thugs beat them.   In 1998 I witnessed a massacre in West Papua that killed upwards of 150 civilians, so I feared the worst. 

When the dead were counted from the violent crackdown at the Papuan People’s Congress, I was relieved to learn that the carnage was minor by local standards.  Human Rights Watch concluded that three civilians were shot dead by Indonesian police on October 19th, 2011.  Over 300 delegates to the Papuan People’s Congress were initially detained by Indonesian security forces.  On the heels of these arbitrary detentions, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced alarm.  She said that the United States has “very directly raised our concerns about the violence and the abuse of human rights” in West Papua. 

Most of the delegates to the Papuan People’s Congress were quickly released, except for five leaders who were charged with inciting rebellion.  Forkorus Yaboisembut is among these five, along with Edison Waromi, the newly elected Prime Minister.  Today they joined upwards of 90 West Papuans in Indonesian jails who have been identified by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience.

Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world.  The United States regards Indonesia as a “Strategic Partner” and has considerable influence in the country’s political, economic, and strategic affairs.  Clearly tales of Indonesia’s ongoing war in West Papua troubled Barack Obama as a young man.  Now, as an adult, he is in a position to support the “weak” power of non-violent resistance with a few carefully chosen words.  President Obama should join Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in calling for the unconditional release of West Papuan political prisoners.

 * * *

Eben Kirksey earned his Ph.D. from the University of California-Santa Cruz and is currently a Mellon Fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City.  His first book, “Freedom in EntangledWorlds: West Papua and the Architecture ofGlobal Power”, will be published by Duke University Press on March 30th, 2012.

Select Publications

Select Publications




KIRKSEY, S. E. (2017) "Lively Multispecies Communities, Deadly Racial Assemblages, and the Promise of Justice" South Atlantic Quarterly 116(1): 195-206.


KIRKSEY, S. E. (2015) "Species: A Praxiographic Study" Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 21, 758-780.


KIRKSEY, S. E. (2014) The Multispecies Salon, Duke University Press: Durham.


KIRKSEY, S. E. (2013) “Interspecies Love” in Lanjouw and Corbey (eds) The Politics of Species (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 164-77.


KIRKSEY, S. E., N. Shapiro, M. Brodine (2013) "Hope in Blasted Landscapes" Social Science Information, 52 (2): 228-256.


KIRKSEY, S. E. 2013 “A Messianic Multiple: West Papua, July 1998” in Bryan Turner (ed.) War and Peace: Essays on Religion and Violence (Anthem Press), pp. 37-59.


KIRKSEY, S. E. 2012 "Living with Parasites in Palo Verde National Park" Environmental Humanities, 1: 23-55.


KIRKSEY, S. E. 2012 "Thneeds Reseeds: Figures of Biocultural Hope in the Anthropocene" in G. Martin, D. Mincyte, and U. Münster (eds.) Why Do We Value Diversity? Rachel Carson Perspectives vol 9: 89-94.


KIRKSEY, S. E. 2012 Freedom in Entangled Worlds, Duke University Press: Durham.


KIRKSEY, S. E. & S. HELMREICH. 2010 "The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography", Cultural Anthropology, 25 (4): 545-576. Full Special Issue (48.8 MB)

In the News

In September 2010 Eben testified before the U.S. Congress about massacres in West Papua.


He joined Indonesian investigative reporter Andreas Harsono in 2008 to publish "Criminal Collaborations", a peer-reviewed article about Indonesian military involvement in the murder of two Americans. This research started a lively discussion in the Indonesian media and sparked a series of media articles in publications such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! invited Eben to discuss this research on her news show.