Kimberley Thomas

Associate Scholar

20162017 Forum on Translation

Kimberley Thomas

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Humanities and Humanistic Sciences, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Pennsylvania

Environmental Science, South Asian Studies

Kimberley Thomas conducts interdisciplinary research on the politics and governance of international rivers. Drawing on theories and methods in political ecology, critical geopolitics, and environmental history, her work interrogates the relationships between land use decisions and human vulnerability to environmental change at multiple scales. While Bangladesh is often framed as a victim of unfortunate geography and climate change, her 2015 dissertation, The River-Border Complex: Governing Flows in South Asia, identified contemporary conflicts along the Ganges River as networked artifacts of imperial capitalism, the violent rupture of the Indian subcontinent, under-development, and localized social vulnerability to environmental hazards. As a postdoctoral fellow, she will elaborate her conceptual framework, "the river-border complex," through comparative analyses of river systems in North America and Southeast Asia.

Translating water management into hazards management in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, where hundreds of rivers course across a vast deltaic landscape, water simultaneously supports and threatens complex ecosystems and diverse livelihoods. For instance, a flood can quench thirsty rice paddies or destroy infrastructure; brackish water sustains mangrove forests and shrimp cultivation but also contaminates drinking water and renders land sterile. Whether a hydrological condition is interpreted as beneficial or hazardous has profound implications for water management. Combining archival records, in-person interviews, and policy reports, this work examines how the translation of foreign expertise into local water management interventions has exacerbated rather than mitigated the risks of floods, droughts, seawater intrusion, and cyclones in Bangladesh. Not only were foreign engineering schemes from the North Atlantic inappropriately prescribed for the Bay of Bengal, but local understandings of floods as both benign and perilous were collapsed into a singular definition that led to policies aimed at eliminating rather than managing such events.