Paige West (She/Her)

Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology
Director of Center for the Study of Social Difference
2021 Guggenheim Fellow for Social Sciences
The Explorer’s Club 50


Paige West joined the faculty at Barnard College and Columbia University in 2001, the year after earning her PhD in cultural and environmental anthropology at Rutgers University. Dr. West has worked in Papua New Guinea since 1996 and has conducted over 100 months of field-based research in the country. 

Dr. West’s broad scholarly interest is 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 and produced, the aesthetics and poetics of human social relations with nature, and the creation of commodities and practices of consumption. 

In 2002 Dr. West received the American Anthropological Association’s Anthropology and Environment Junior Scholar award for her work, in 2004 she received the American Association of University Women Junior Faculty Fellowship and the American Council of Learned Societies Faculty Fellowship, in 2006 she received the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Fellowship, and in 2007 she was named a Fellow by the Association of Social Anthropology in Oceania. In 2009 she founded the peer review journal Environment and Society. She served as its editor for ten years. In 2012 she became the Chair of the Ecology and Culture University Seminar at Columbia. Recently, she has served as the chair of the Association of Social Anthropology in Oceania and is the past president of the Anthropology and Environment Society of the American Anthropological Association. In 2013 she delivered the Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures at Columbia University. In 2015 she became the co-director of the Pacific Climate Circuits project at the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University. In 2016 she was named a Distinguished Scholar by the National Social Environmental Synthesis Center and an advisor to the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) Science for Nature and People Initiative (SNaP). Finally, in 2017 and 2018 Dr. West served as a Phi Beta Kappa distinguished national lecturer. 

In addition to her academic work, Dr. West is the co-founder, and a board member, 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. Dr. West 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. 

In addition to her position as the Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology, Dr. West is the Director of the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University and the co-director of the Barbara Silver Horowitz 55′ Scholars of Distinction Program at Barnard. 


Rutgers University, PhD in Cultural and Environmental Anthropology, 2000

University of Georgia, MA in Anthropology, 1994

Wofford College, BS in Sociology & Psychology, 1991

Environmental interventions in PNG and elsewhere are not only acts of conservation, but also complex processes of social engineering and development where ‘fundamental’ notions of self, social relations, and the environment are engaged.

Conservation Is Our Government Now


411 Milbank Hall
Barnard College
Columbia University
New York, NY 10027