Paige West
Author: JC Salyer
2021

Paige West

Anthropologist

culture, conservation, and change

meet paige

Dr. Paige West holds the Claire Tow Professorship in Anthropology at Barnard College and Columbia University where she serves as the Director of Columbia’s Center for the Study of Social Difference. She has worked in Papua New Guinea since 1996, to understand the biodiversity and traditions of indigenous peoples and to help them conserve their cultures, languages, and environments. She is the author and editor of numerous books and the co-founder of two NGOs that are conservation-focused.

culture, conservation, and change
Nominated by: Rob McCallum FN'09
Class of 2021 Location New York, USA
Author: Michael Moore

Most cultural anthropologists work alone, a model that imagines the lone ethnographer entering a field site to live among the natives and learn about their lives. During my first field research in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG), I followed this model. Over several years, I realized that, for me, that model was inadequate. For most of my career, I have worked in partnership with other scholars, the majority of whom have been from PNG. I have also refused the other major assumption in my field which is to produce work that adds solely to the anthropological canon. My primary goal is to strengthen Indigenous sovereignty over biodiversity and tradition and to develop new ways in which anthropological methods can add to this practice.

“I believe that my lasting legacy in anthropology is the development of a new generation of scholars that believes our field should be used to make the world better.”

- Paige West
Author: Patrick Nason

I’ve done this by co-founding a small NGO that creates the conditions of possibility for young scholars from PNG to go overseas and earn graduate degrees in ecology and conservation, by co-founding a school that teaches K-12 students at the nexus of Indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge, and by fostering 23 small marine protected areas designed and implemented by Indigenous communities. I count over thirty graduates of our NGO as my colleagues in conservation. They are changing the face of conservation for the better, globally.

During this, I have continued as a professor who pushes my students to transform anthropological methods and their goals as anthropologists. I believe that my lasting legacy in anthropology is the development of a new generation of scholars that believes our field should be used to make the world better.

never stop exploring

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