Writer Anthropologist Collaborator

Bio

Paige West (she/her) is an endowed professor of anthropology, writer, and director for the of the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University. Equally dedicated to scholarship, mentoring, and collaboration, Paige West is the author of three books and the founder of the journal Environment and Society: Advances in Research. She is the co-founder of the PNG Institute of Biological Research and the Roviana Solwara Skul, two conservation-focused NGOs in Papua New Guinea. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Research

Paige West’s broad scholarly interest is in the relationship between societies and their environments. More specifically, she has written about the linkages between environmental conservation and international development, the material and symbolic ways in which the natural world is understood by Indigenous peoples and natural scientists, the aesthetics and poetics of human social relations with nature, the creation of commodities and practices of consumption, and the relationship between material and epistemic dispossessions and racism. Since 1996 she has worked with Indigenous collaborators and partners in Papua New Guinea. While trained as an anthropologist, Dr. West’s work sits more broadly within the transdisciplinary field of political ecology. 

Publications

Dispossession and the Environment

This searing study reveals how journalists, developers, surf tourists, and conservation NGOs produce and reinforce inequalities and facilitate dispossession by devaluing Papua New Guinean knowledge and practice.

Winner of the 2017 Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award.

From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive

In this vivid ethnography, Paige West tracks coffee from Papua New Guinea, to Hamburg, Sydney, London, and New York, illuminating the social lives of the people who produce, process, distribute, market, and consume coffee.

Published in 2012 with Duke University Press

Conservation Is Our Government Now

A significant contribution to political ecology, this study examines the history and social effects of conservation and development efforts in Papua New Guinea, specifically the Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

Published in 2006 with Duke University Press

Mentoring

Paige West is indebted to her anthropology mentors Dr. Dorothy L. Hodgson and Dr. Bonnie J. McCay, to the scholarship of Pacific Studies scholar Dr. Teresia K. Teaiwa, and to her students for her approach to teaching and mentoring. Following Dr. Hodgson and Dr. McCay, Dr. West approaches mentoring graduate students with an ethic of kindness that is wrapped into a clear vision of how students can best follow the scholarly paths that they desire. Following Dr. Teaiwa, she attempts to create classroom spaces that do not replicate the colonial and racist history of the academy. She does this through creating a shared space of co-production and co-teaching which she facilitates throughout the semester. Learning from her students over the past twenty years, she has realized that the best teaching and mentoring is flexible and open to radical reconsideration and change as scholarly practice becomes more capacious and inclusive.

Collaborations

In addition to her academic work, Paige West is the co-founder of the PNG Institute of Biological Research, a small NGO dedicated to building academic opportunities for research in Papua New Guinea by Papua New Guineans. For over a decade, she has worked in partnership with John Aini and the Indigenous marine sovereignty NGO Ailan Awareness. She is also the co-founder of the Roviana Solwara Skul, a school in Papua New Guinea dedicated to teaching at the nexus of Indigenous knowledge and western scientific knowledge.

From The Blog

From Reciprocity to Relationality: Anthropological Possibilities

In September 2018 the wonderful journal Cultural Anthropology published a special edition of their Hot Spots series that I edited. You can find the link to webpage for full issue here.  The issue came about when Dominic Boyer, one of the editors of the journal (the other is Cymene Howe) contacted in in July of 2018 and asked if I would be interested in editing something that focused on the future of anthropology. The issue was incredibly fun to edit. In part, because it was responding to calls from young, dynamic, smart scholars for other people (like me) to speak up about some of the pressing issues in the field. And it part because I got to work with the people who contributed articles. I’ve linked to each article and each scholar below. I’m proud of this issue of Hot Spots and hope you enjoy it!

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Decolonizing Conservation

Collaboration

In June 2018 John Aini and Paige West presented joint keynote lectures at The International Marine Conservation Congress in Kuching, Malaysia and The POLLEN (Political Ecology Network) Biennial Conference in Oslo, Norway. John presented their lecture in Kuching and Paige presented their lecture in Oslo. They wrote a single paper together in May 2018 and then worked independently (sitting across a table from each other on both Nago and Nusa Islands, New Ireland, Papua New Guinea) to translate the single paper into two lectures for two very different audiences. Their goal was to talk about their on-going collaboration and the work they have been doing for the past decade to “decolonize conservation.”

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Women’s Scholarship in Political Ecology

On June 20th, 2018, I was honored to give one of the keynote addresses at the 2018 POLLEN conference in Oslo, Norway. The talk I gave, “Critical Approaches to Dispossession in the Melanesian Pacific: Conservation, Voice, and Collaboration” was a co-authored piece I wrote with my long-time research partner John Aini. In it I drew out three interrelated themes that, if we think about together, we can use to make Political Ecology a stronger, more equitable, and potentially decolonial field. One of those themes had to do with the gendered nature of the genealogies of knowledge we draw on and reproduce in the field. Here is what I said about this in the keynote address:

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