Paige West

Department Chair

Tow Professor of Anthropology


Paige West joined the faculty in 2001, the year after earning her Ph.D. in cultural and environmental anthropology. Dr. West’s general research interest is the relationship between society and the environment. 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. She has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Australia, Germany, England, and the United States.

Dr. West is the Chair of the Columbia University Seminar on Ecology and Culture.

Dr. West hast two current research projects. The first is a long-term study of the meanings and values attributed to plants, animals, landscapes, and seascapes in PNG. The second is a study of the non-material drivers for accumulation by dispossession, both historically and contemporarily, across the entire island of New Guinea. Her current research sites include the Eastern Highlands Province, the islands of New Ireland and New Hanover, and Port Moresby.

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 2008 she founded the journal Environment and Society: Advances in Research, which is published by Berghahn Books, and for which she serves as editor. Dr. West is currently the chair-elect of the Association of Social Anthropology in Oceania and the past president of the Anthropology and Environment Section of the American Anthropological Association. In 2013 Dr. West will deliver the Schoff Lectures at Columbia University. 

In addition to her academic work, Dr. West is the co-founder of the PNG Institute of Biological Research, a small NGO dedicated to building academic opportunities for research in PNG among Papua New Guineans. She is currently on its board of directors.  She is also the volunteer anthropologist for the PNG NGO Ailan Awareness (AA), a marine-conservation NGO.

Academic Focus: 

Sustainable development
Political ecology


Dr. West’s most recent books are From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea (2012, Duke University Press), Conservation is our Government now: The Politics of Ecology in Papua New Guinea (2006, Duke University Press), 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.




B.A., Wofford College

M.A., The University of Georgia

M.Phil., Ph.D., Rutgers University

In the News

Article focuses on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and its fraught relationship with Australia

Barnard faculty members to discuss the effects of climate change on people and their environments.

The final lecture in a series of three, “The Elusive Concept of 'Capacity Building' in International Development," will take place on November 25 at 8 p.m. at Columbia Faculty House.