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David Hecht

UGA Arch
PhD Candidate, Integrative Conservation (ICON) & Anthropology
Research Partner, Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), Thimphu, Bhutan

About My Research

In my research, I draw on the anthropology of place and landscape to explore the spatial dimensions of community-based avian conservation in Bhutan.  I focus on the interface between lived religion, place-based local deities, species of conservation concern, and adaptive beliefs/traditions embedded in sacred landscapes and along trans-national flyways, in the context of NGO conservation practice and protected area management. In partnership with the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), this project prioritizes participatory mapping methodologies to foreground the cultural complexities of conservation spatiality in local communities where these birds are found, and in the process aims to create opportunities for community-owned storymapping and knowledge documentation informed by an integrative approach to collaborative scholarship.

White-bellied Heron Nest

2019 Field Season: Focus Group Discussion, Berti Community, Bhutan

2020 Field Season: Mapping in Eastern Bhutan













2020 Field Season: Participatory Mapping in Eastern Bhutan

Of note:

Board Member, North Americas Regional Representative, International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE)- 2016-2019

Associate Editor, Journal of Ethnobiology


PhD Integrative Conservation & Anthropology, University of Georgia (2015 - Present)

Graduate Certificate, Conservation Ecology & Sustainable Development

Graduate Certificate, Non-profit Management & Leadership

BA Anthropology, Luther College (2011)

BS Biology, Luther College (2011)

Research Areas:
Research Interests:

Research Interests:

Community-based conservation, anthropology of landscapes, Himalayan anthropology, critical geography, participatory mapping, ethno-ornithology, Bhutan studies


Research Summary:

At the intersection of Tibetan Buddhism and indigenous ‘Bon’ animism in the Eastern Himalayas, complex relational and spatial ontologies exist between protective territorial deities (gnas bdag gzhi bdag; yul lha) and the communities that propitiate them. In Bhutan, a suite of local deities and more-than-human spirits are known to occupy territory, in forests, cliffs, trees, lakes, and springs, mediating relationships between people and their environments. Different local deity classes occupy and exhibit agency within the landscape, places described as “the deity’s palace” or “citadel of the deity” (pho brang). These landscape-scale relational ontologies inevitably intersect with the politics of conservation and development in the Kingdom. While characteristics of gnas bdag gzhi bdag are historically documented in religious text, there have been relatively few efforts to document this knowledge with community practitioners. Moreover, even fewer efforts to map deity citadels in a participatory capacity exist, precluding richer geographical understanding of their relational complexities, protected status, spatiality, and territoriality. Our research engages with integrative and collaborative techniques in cultural mapping to document local understandings of the landscape and foreground the more-than-human agencies and political ecology of conservation protected areas for priority species. Drawing insights from Himalayan artistic traditions, than kha and ldeb ris, we painted a series of deity counter-maps to accentuate cultural landscape realities and re-center marginalized traditional knowledges in conservation & development arenas.

Selected Publications:

Hecht, D. 2020. Review, Extreme Conservation: Life at the Edges of the World, by J. Berger. Human Ecology. 48(1)

Hecht, D. 2020. Review, Birds of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas, by Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp, Tim Inskipp, Sherub. IBIS- International Journal of Avian Science. 162(3).7.

Hecht, David 2018. Diverse Voices, Complex Choices: Honoring Multiple Knowledges in Conservation Practice. Indigenous Peoples & Local Communities Global Program Division. The Nature Conservancy (TNC)

Hecht, David M. 2011. Acknowledging spiritual realities: ecological knowledge, cultural connections, and spiritual agency in Dai Theravada Buddhism. Lambda Alpha Anthropology Honor Society Journal, v.41, p.15-22


2021, Frederick Williamson Memorial Fund, University of Cambridge

2020, Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research Fellowship

2020, Bhutan Foundation, Small Grants Program

2019, Explorer, National Geographic Society, Human Journey Grant

2016, Young Explorer, National Geographic Society, Wildlife & Critical Species Grant

2016, Interdisciplinary and Innovative Research Grant (IIRG)

Articles Featuring David Hecht
Tuesday, September 1, 2020 - 12:02pm

UGA Research article, "Pivoting during a pandemic: Fieldwork in the time of COVID" written by PhD student, Linda Kosen, features Dr. Julie Velásquez Runk and PhD student, David Hecht. The article discusses the obstacles and changes researchers have faced during…

Monday, January 27, 2020 - 1:11pm

David Hecht, PhD Candidate in Integrative Conservation & Anthropology, recently received a Firebird Foundation Fellowship for a joint traditional knowledge documentation project entitled “…

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - 6:36pm

David Hecht, Ph.D. student in anthropology and integrative conservation, won a National Geographic Society Young Explorers Grant to support his continuing project work in Bhutan, “Collaborative Watershed Mapping and White-bellied Heron Conservation in S.

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