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Shelton H. Davis, American anthropologist, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1942. He received undergraduate degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from Antioch College (Yellow Springs, Ohio) in 1965, and a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from Harvard University in 1970.
Prior to his employment at the World Bank, Davis followed academic pursuits, which included teaching Native American and Latin American anthropology undergraduate courses at Harvard University from 1971 to 1973. He additionally helped found the indigenous documentation center Indigena, Inc., in Berkeley, California from 1973 to 1975. In 1975, he established the Anthropological Research Center (ARC) in Boston, Massachusetts, which devoted its research to analyzing the effects of development policies on indigenous communities and the environment. In his time at ARC, Davis published one of his most influential works: Victims of the Miracle: Development and the Indians of Brazil (1977). From 1984 to 1986, Davis served as visiting scholar at the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
In 1986, Davis began his career with the World Bank. He worked in multiple roles during his career at the World Bank, including: consultant in the Office of Environmental and Scientific Affairs, Operational Policies and Programs (OESA), 1986-1987; Senior Sociologist in the Regional Technical Department, Environment Unit, Latin America and Caribbean Region (LATEN), 1987-1991; Senior Sociologist in the Environment Department, Environmental Assessments and Programs Division (ENVAP), 1991-1992; Principal Sociologist for the Social Policy and Resettlement Division (ENVSP), 1993-1997; Principal Sociologist in the Environment Department, Social Development Department (SDV), 1997-1998; Sector Manager in the Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development Unit , Latin America and Caribbean Region (LCSES), 1998-1999; and Sector Manager in the Social Development Unit, Latin America and Caribbean Region (LCSEO), 2000-2004. Davis retired from the World Bank in 2004, but continued to perform consultant work from 2004 to 2008.
His work at the World Bank focused on developing policies that safeguarded the rights of indigenous communities, protected biodiversity, and helped promote sustainable and responsible social development for Bank-funded projects. As a World Bank sociologist, Davis took part in assessments, and reviews of Bank-funded development projects and designed procedures, and methods to evaluate potential social and environmental impacts on indigenous and minority communities from modern development. He additionally helped review World Bank development policies and advised the Bank to include social impact considerations, and embed certain compliance mechanisms in policy to address challenges such as involuntary resettlement of indigenous peoples, conservation of biodiversity, and exclusion of indigenous peoples in development projects. In this regard, Davis played a key role in developing the operational directive "OD 4.20 - Indigenous Peoples" adopted by the World Bank in 1991 and its successor "OP 4.10 - Indigenous Peoples" in 2005. He also organized numerous training sessions, conferences, and workshops related to indigenous rights, environment, and sustainability, including World Bank conferences: "Traditional Knowledge and Sustainable Development" (1994) and "Poverty Reduction and Social Exclusion" (1996). As Sector Manager in the Social Development and Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development Units of the Latin America and Caribbean Region (LCSES AND LCSEO), Davis oversaw the compliance, enforcement, training, and implementation of the safeguards he helped to cultivate in World Bank development policy.
While employed at the World Bank, Davis published numerous books, articles, and reports on indigenous communities of Latin America, including: Protecting Amerindian Lands: A Review of World Bank Experience with Indigenous Land Regularization Programs in Lowland South America (1992) and The Maya Movement and National Culture in Guatemala (2004). He additionally taught at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, University of California, Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston University, Clark University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Georgetown University.
Shelton H. Davis passed away at the age of 67 in Arlington County, Virginia on May 27, 2010.