Caving Culturally María alejandra pérez, PhD

I am an Assistant Professor in the Geography Program at West Virginia University’s Department of Geology and Geography. A cultural anthropologist by training, I investigate the cultural and historical context of scientific practice. More specifically, I approach science as a cultural activity. Speleology (cave science and exploration) serves as a case study with which I examine a range of topics such as identity (Who are we? What brings us together?), place and emotion (How do places become meaningful? Why is it that we come to love some places more than others? ), value (How do we come to value, beyond economic considerations, places that are hidden or not part of our everyday livelihoods?). Really, these questions are relevant well beyond caves, karst, and even bunkers, another site of research!

I had originally titled this website Cultures of Caving. But that title is not accurate. I don't want anyone to think there are all of these distinct cultures of caving around the world. It is much more accurate to speak of Caving Culturally, an idea I develop in my research (this is a good place to start). One of my favorite anthropologists, Tim Ingold, puts it best when he notes that “it might be more realistic … to say that people live culturally rather than to say they live in cultures.” This approach encourages studies of “people whose lives take them on a journey through space and time in environments which seem to them to be full of significance, who use both words and material artifacts to get things done and to communicate with others, and who, in their talk, endlessly spin metaphors so as to weave labyrinthine and ever-expanding networks of symbolic equivalence” (Ingold 2011). Now if you are a caver, I am certain that you can identify with this definition! In fact, we all can, no matter what keeps us up at night... whether it involves the underground or not.

I began my research with speleologists in Venezuela, my country of origin. I have since done work in Cuba, the continental US, and now I am developing a project in Puerto Rico. The Cuba research is actually international in scope: the project, Field Studies of Karst Environments: A Case Study of International Scientific Collaborations and Network Building, examines the history and present activity of collaborations and networking between US and Cuban speleologists. This three-year research project was funded by the National Science Foundation. A second ongoing project, in collaboration with John Wilson, is titled Caver Villages: Community, Sense of Place, and Conservation of the Underground. I am now developing a project on caver contributions to Caribbean cave archaeology with my WVU colleague Martina Caretta. Stay tuned for other research updates.

Since 2019, I am honored to have joined the Fellows community of the National Speleological Society. In 2020 the Sociedad Espeleológica de Cuba recognized my efforts building bridges between Cuban and US cavers with the SEC 25th Anniversary Medal. I am also a Board Member of the Cave Conservancy of the Virginias. This great organization has a grants program for research and conservation projects relevant to the region. But the speleological organization where my heart belongs is the Sociedad Venezolana de Espeleología. Want to know more about speleology in Latin America and the Caribbean? Check out the Federación Espeleológica de América Latina y del Caribe. Finally, cavers and karst scientists around the world are gearing up for the upcoming International Year of Caves and Karst in 2021, coordinated by the International Union of Speleology. Join the effort!

You can download my CV here.

Recent Publications (Peer-Reviewed)

Other Relevant Publications

  • Pérez, M. A. and J. Wilson. 2019. Caver Communities and Organizations: Cultural and Historical Considerations. In White, W. and D. Culver (eds), Encyclopedia of Caves (3rd Edition). Elsevier.
  • Pérez, M. A. 2019. Book Review: Endless Caverns: An Underground Journey into the Show Caves of Appalachia by Douglas Reichert Powell (2018). West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies (13) 1: In Press.
  • Pérez, M. A., D. Soroka, H. DuChene, and J. Patera. 2017. Exploring the Caves and Karst of Cuba In the Context of Changing US-Cuba Relations, NSS News: 16-23.
  • Pérez, M. A. 2016. Humans and Caves: A Broader Cultural Perspective, Caving Basics (4th Edition). Wiseman, Dean and Curt Harler (eds.). Pp. 209-218. Huntsville: National Speleological Society.
  • Pérez, M. A. 2009. Special Topics: Ramón Alberto Hernández (1926-2009). Boletín de la Sociedad Venezolana de Espeleología (43): 45-48.
  • Pérez, M. A. 2007. Special Topics: Recordando y reconociendo a Juan Antonio Tronchoni, promotor de la espeleología venezolana. Boletín de la Sociedad Venezolana de Espeleología (41): 33-42.
  • Galán, C., Herrera, F., Carreño, R., and Pérez, M. 2004. Roraima Sur System, Venezuela: 10.8 km, World’s Longest Quartzite Cave. Boletín de la Sociedad Venezolana de Espeleología (41): 33-42.


98 Beechurst Ave, 330 Brooks Hall, Morgantown, WV 26506-6300 // maria.perez@mail.wvu.edu

I live in Morgantown, WV, with my dear husband and our daughters, all three intrepid companions during mommy's adventures.
Created By
Maria Perez


Alan Warild