About Paige West

Paige West, who is the Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Center for the Study of Social Difference, joined the faculty at Barnard College and Columbia University in 2001, the year after earning her Ph.D. in cultural and environmental anthropology at Rutgers University.

Dr. West’s broad scholarly interest is the relationship between societies and their environments. More specifically, she has written about the intersections between indigenous epistemic practices and conservation science, the linkages between environmental conservation and international development, the material and symbolic ways in which the natural world is understood and produced, the aesthetics and poetics of human social relations with nature, and the creation of commodities and practices of consumption. She has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Australia, Germany, England, and the United States.

Dr. West’s most recent books are Dispossession and The Environment: Rhetoric and Inequality in Papua New Guinea (2016, Columbia University Press and winner of the 2017 Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award), From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea (2012, Duke University Press) (2013 runner up for the Julian Steward Award from the American Anthropological Association; one of the finalist for the 2014 Society for Economic Anthropology book award), Conservation is our Government now: The Politics of Ecology in Papua New Guinea (2006, Duke University Press), Tropical Forests of Oceania, co-edited with Joshua Bell and Colin Filer, and, co-edited with James G. Carrier, Virtualism, Governance, and Practice: Vision and Execution in Environmental Conservation (2009 Berghahn Press).

In 2018 Dr. West edited an issue of the journal Cultural Anthropology’s Hot Spots series called From Reciprocity to Relationality: Anthropological Possibilities. She also wrote the introduction to that special issue.

Dr. West is also the author of numerous articles.

In 2002 Dr. West received the American Anthropological Association’s Anthropology and Environment Junior Scholar Award, in 2004 she received the American Association of University Women Junior Faculty Fellowship and the American Council of Learned Societies Faculty Fellowship, and in 2006 she received the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Fellowship.  In 2012 she became the Chair of the Ecology and Culture University Seminar at Columbia University. In 2017 / 2018 she was a distinguished national speaker for Phi Beta Kappa, traveling to eight universities to give public talks based on her scholarship.

Dr. West is a past president of the Anthropology and Environment Section of the American Anthropological Association as well as past chair of the Association of Social Anthropology in Oceania and past chair of the Department of Anthropology at Barnard College. She is also the founder of the journal Environment and Society: Advances in Research and edited that journal for a decade.  In 2013 Dr. West delivered the Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures at Columbia University.

Dr. West is currently the director of the Barbara Silver Horowitz ’55 Scholars of Distinction Program at Barnard College.  She is also on the board of directors of the University Seminars at Columbia University.

In addition to her academic work, Dr. West is a co-founder of the PNG Institute of Biological Research, a small NGO dedicated to building academic opportunities for research in PNG for Papua New Guineans. She is now on its board of directors.  Dr. West is also the anthropologist for the PNG NGO Ailan Awareness (AA), a marine-focused organization that works with communities in New Ireland and New Hanover to facilitate the conservation of their traditions, languages, and natural resources. Dr. West’s long time research partner, John Aini, is the founder and director of AA.

You can follow Dr. West on Twitter at @PaigeWestNYC.