Wade Davis

Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

This faculty member is currently not looking for graduate students or Postdoctoral Fellows. Please do not contact the faculty member with any such requests.


Research Classification

Research Interests

cultural biological diversity, language loss, South American ethnography, coca, Colombia
Polynesian Wayfinding, Tahltan, Haida, Vodoun, Tibetan beyuls, Arctic, Sacred Geography, Dreamtime,

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Research Options

I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.

Research Methodology

I am less an academic than a storyteller, a writer who employs research skills to tell stories that I think the world needs to hear.

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Pampa and Pallay: the paradox of culture and economy in the Andean mountains (2022)

Cultural heritage around the world is struggling to stay alive as global markets increasingly reward efficiency and standardization over handmade, traditional processes. Yet it is this very heritage that could bring humanity together, revive cultural identities, and promote sustainable development. The Quechua textile tradition in Peru is one such practice, and its future is tenuous amidst synthetic replicas of traditional weavings that are sold in markets across Cusco. After working to revitalize this tradition for over 15 years, here I delve into theoretical understandings of the realities of safeguarding cultural heritage in an era of rapid economic change. Working collaboratively with five rural Quechua communities, I use mixed methods in this research, including ethnographic immersion, semi-structured interviews, participatory action, and an oral-tactile textile survey. I present my dissertation creatively in two parts: the warp (academic research, expressed through five empirical chapters) and the weft (six practical tools to support textile revitalization at the community level). My research is interdisciplinary, situated within the frameworks of socioecological systems, cultural heritage law, and collective intellectual property rights. I ask how local communities are navigating trade-offs among economic, environmental, and sociocultural considerations as they safeguard their cultural heritage. As part of this, I work with highland alpaca-herders to recuperate their local alpaca-rearing tradition. I also explore the relationship between authenticity and adaptation in the context of the market economy, with reference to how this relationship may affect Quechua weavers’ resilience. I assess opinions of local producers, vendors, and consumers regarding which textile attributes are considered most and least authentic, understanding that many traditional processes are adapting due to stressors like market demand, climate change, and rural-urban emigration. I argue that, when safeguarding cultural heritage, values reflecting sociocultural and environmental wellbeing are often demoted in favour of economic security. Currently, markets are not set up to support small-scale artisans, and especially artisans who are women. I put forth various solutions to these dilemmas, including recommendations about community-based certifications and the pivotal role that vendors can – and arguably ought to – play as educators, to collectively shift the market towards one that recognizes and values cultural heritage.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Ashaninka spirituality and forest conservation (2021)

This research was carried out in the Apiwtxa village of the Ashaninka people, located on the banks of the Amônia river, in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, on the border with Peru. Living in one of the most biodiverse regions of the planet, this community stands out both for the strength and depth of its spirituality and for its commitment to stewardship of the environment; with a population of but 900, the Ashaninka of Apiwtxa have within the last twenty years planted more than two million trees. In this study, I analyze the connection between the traditional spiritual practices of the Ashaninka people, with the use of ayahuasca, and the propensity of this people to preserve nature, and to achieve a genuinely sustainable development, combining ancestral mandates inspired in part by mythology, with contemporary practices informed by a scientific understanding of forest ecology. As metaphysical convictions inform behavior, a space of reciprocal respect is created whereby indigenous principles mediate the connection between humans and the forest.Indigenous peoples may well be the best guardians of the world's forests and its biodiversity; where indigenous lands are legally demarcated and secured, carbon sequestration is greater and deforestation is demonstrably less. What do they know, and how do they manage their forests? How much of their worldview, which generates sustainability and conservation, comes from a particular cosmology? What does it mean to consider plants as teachers? What is the relationship between Ashaninka spirituality and their propensity to conserve and regenerate the environment around them? In this research, with the invaluable collaboration of Moisés Piyãko, a revered elder and shaman, I explore this relationship, its origins, precepts, and consequences. Analyzing cosmological aspects, ritualistic norms, and the application of this form of knowledge (not only linked to an ancestral past, but also pointing a way forward), I seek to show how this connection exists and is essential for the choices that this community made and makes. In this way, this study is also a tribute to the plurality of worldviews, the diversity of cultures and the richness they bring us, with its potential for exchanges and teachings.

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Of fishpots, bonnets, and wine: the cultural history of the Bermuda palmetto (2018)

This thesis represents the first academic study of Bermuda’s historical ethnobotany. Settled by the English in the early 17th century, Bermuda soon gave rise to a set of interfused hybrid cultures formed by people from around the Atlantic Basin. While inhabitants were shunted into political categories according to social standing (slave, slave-owner, indentured servant, land-owner, etc.), in reality each group arrived with traditional ethnobotanical knowledge which they rapidly adapted to the new social, political, and ecological climate. Until the 20th century, Bermudians were dependent on the island’s two dominant, endemic forest species: Sabal bermudana L.H. Bailey (Bermuda palmetto) and Juniperus bermudiana L. (Bermuda cedar). While much is known and has been written about the cedar, this thesis focuses on the palmetto which played an equal, if not more fundamental, role in the island’s economy and daily life. The palmetto was an invaluable source of food, wine, and household goods to 17th century settlers; its leaves were central to the 18th century plaiting and hat-making industry; and, now an endangered species, it is pivotal to today’s conservation and ecological restoration efforts. By tracing the rise and fall of palmetto use in Bermuda, we gain a lens through which to consider Bermuda as a complex social-ecological system, one that, both socially and ecologically, has been in constant flux since its inception. Some of the driving forces explored in this thesis include the adaptation of knowledge from Bermuda’s constituent cultures, the implementation of British colonial values and law, migration, slavery, scarcity of natural resources, starvation, the industrial revolution, and economic globalization.While this multiplicity of factors has led to a sharp decline in plant knowledge in Bermuda in the last century, many Bermudians are keen to preserve their hard-won traditional knowledge, evidenced by the small but impassioned cultural-revitalization and conservation movements on the island. Appendix A, therefore, provides a catalogue of plants of historical and present-day value in Bermuda and serves as a record for present and future generations. This list is supported by herbarium specimens, housed at UBC, to ensure accurate identification.

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