Paige West joined the faculty at Barnard College and Columbia University in 2001, the year after earning her Ph.D. in cultural and environmental anthropology. She holds The Claire Tow Professorship in Anthropology and serves as the Director of the Columbia University Climate School Transdisciplinary Research Lab. Dr. West has worked with Indigenous peoples in Melanesia since the 1990s to understand their biodiversity-focused traditions and has collaborated with many communities to revitalize their socio-ecological systems. She has conducted over 100 months of field-based research in Papua New Guinea.
Dr. 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, and the creation of commodities and practices of consumption. Her current research is focused on the question of how people forge new lives in the face of climate change.
Dr. West is the author of three books and the editor of five more. She has also published numerous scholarly papers. In 2009, Dr. West founded the peer-review journal Environment and Society: Advances in Research and served as its editor for a decade. Dr. West’s most recent book, Dispossession and the Environment, won the 2017 Columbia University Press Distinguished Book Award. Her current book project, Aunty: A Prayer for the World, funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship, is forthcoming.
In 2002 Dr. West received the American Anthropological Association’s Anthropology and Environment Junior Scholar award, in 2004 she received both 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 2012 she became the Chair of the Ecology and Culture University Seminar at Columbia. 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, an honor given to one faculty member a year. 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 Science for Nature and People Initiative. In 2017 and 2018 Dr. West served as a Phi Beta Kappa distinguished national lecturer. In 2021 she was named “one of 50 people changing the world” by the Explorers Club. Dr. West is also a Guggenheim Fellow.
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. She currently serves as the Anthropological Director for the NGO Ailan Awareness. You can learn more about her work on her personal website, https://paige-west.com.
- B.A., Wofford College
- M.A., The University of Georgia
- M.Phil., Ph.D., Rutgers University
- Socially equitable environmental conservation
- Indigenous sovereignty
- Political ecology
- Climate Change
- Papua New Guinea
Dr. West’s most recent books are Dispossession and The Environment: Rhetoric and Inequality in Papua New Guinea (2016, Columbia University Press), 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). She is also the author of numerous articles.Dr. West is currently writing a book about climate change, extinction, and the anthropology of kinship.