Jessica Dempsey

Wall Scholar


Associate Professor


Department of Geography





Geographic Location

Jessica Dempsey

How and why does biodiversity loss continue despite the proliferation of conservation laws and policies? Towards answering this, Jess Dempsey studies how nonhuman biological life shapes and is shaped by political, economic, and scientific processes that are implicated in and respond to biodiversity loss. This has led her to interview green financiers in fancy New York boardrooms and scientists in paper-stuffed academic offices, study investments in conservation cattle markets in rural Kenya, participate in endless international biodiversity negotiations, and examine the intricacies of ecological-economic models. Her award-winning book Enterprising Nature (Wiley-Blackwell, 2016) traces the rise of market-based and economistic approaches to biodiversity conservation, concluding that “selling nature to save it” has so far remained promissory, more utopian than pragmatic. In addition to journal publications, Dempsey has also produced a short animation on this topic.


Primary Recipient Awards

Jessica Dempsey – Wall Scholars – 2018

As a Wall Scholar Dempsey will focus on the question of why the decimation of nonhuman life continues apace, despite growing scientific, political, and legal attention to the crisis. Biodiversity loss seems to have a kind of momentum, or even a life of its own. But, Dempsey asks, from where does this momentum stem? She will begin a multi-year and multi-site research project called Cheap Natures of Canada that aims to understand the devalued position of nonhumans like the woodland caribou—species ostensibly “protected” yet still facing ongoing habitat loss. Currently supported by a Hampton grant, the project will build empirically based, political-economic theorizations of biodiversity loss, tracing how wild natures are kept in devalued, or “cheap” positions by laws, policies and economic systems.

Co-Principal Investigator Awards

Mara Goldman – International Visiting Research Scholars – 2020

Dr. Goldman is interested in connecting theories about ‘decolonizing/Indigenizing’ conservation occurring within the academy, with on the ground struggles over resource governance in Indigenous communities globally, and ecological plans in Canada and elsewhere to meet conservation goals. What does it mean to really decolonize and/or Indigenize conservation? How is it being framed in Canada and how does this compare to processes unfolding in other parts of the world, with different and similar ecologies, and histories of colonialism and conservation? And how are decolonization efforts addressing internal differentiation within Indigenous communities (i.e. gender, class, age)? Dr. Goldman will work with UBC scholars to explore these questions and initiate a global conversation and research agenda to link theory-method-practice, across epistemological and ontological worlds, comparing processes and approaches in Canada, East Africa, and India.

Sara Milstein – Theme Development Workshop – 2019