Thayer Scudder

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Thayer Scudder (Ph.D., Harvard University, 1960). Professor emeritus at the California Institute of Technology, he earlier held positions with the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute in Northern Rhodesia and at the American University in Cairo. In 1976, he was one of three founding directors of the Institute for Development Anthropology, a nongovernmental organization well known for its work in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In 1998, he was named to the twelve-member World Commission on Dams. A fellow of the AAAS, he has received numerous honors for his theoretical and applied work, including the 1984 Solon T. Kimball Award for Public and Applied Anthropology, the 1998 Lucy Mair Medal for Applied Anthropology, and the 1999 Bronislaw Malinowski Award. His latest book, Global Threats, Global Challenges: Living with declining living standards, will be forthcoming in 2010.


Selected publications

2010. Global Threats, Global Futures: Living With Declining Living Standards. Cheltenham, Gloucter: Edward Elgar Publishing.


`This is an important book. It has to be listened to, and for two reasons. The first is the expertise of the author: the guy has been there: this is an anthropologist who is constantly in the field. And he possesses a wide range of skills: part ethnographer, part biologist, as much a humanist as a scientist. The combination of experience and expertise is as powerful as it is unusual. Sadly, a second force in favor of this book is the temper of the times. The giddiness of the last century has been driven underground by the perils of this.' - Robert H. Bates, Harvard University, US

`This is an extraordinary, bold, and exceptionally well thought out prospectus on the next century of the human condition. Declining living standards, consequential to the pervasive pursuit of growth in terms of Gross Domestic Product, is a central theme that is thoroughly documented and engagingly articulated. The decisive role in the decline of living standards played by global threats including poverty, fundamentalism, environmental degradation, wars, and excess consumption, is compellingly presented from the perspective of the author's unique career.' - Burton Singer, Princeton University, US

`This impressive study of the progressive impoverishment of the world's resources speaks with the authority of Thayer Scudder's fifty years of experience with international programs for technological development, especially those that involve river basin development and resulting population displacement and resettlement. Case studies from different continents provide the evidence for the likelihood that the majority in future generations will lead more meager lives than their twentieth century ancestors. He points to what has gone wrong in our approach to the world and its resources and to the measures necessary to offset the damage already caused. If only citizens have the political will to adopt them.' - Elizabeth Colson, University of California, Berkeley, US

'Thayer Scudder is one of those gifted authors who have the experience and the vision to span multiple sectors and far flung sites in assessing where humankind and its habitat are heading. His restless curiosity in everything around him has led him to become not simply the world's leading authority on the impacts on the lives of people resettled by dam-building projects but an innovative thinker about development anthropology and the threats to the globe from poverty, fundamentalism in all its pernicious forms and environmental degradation. -- This iconoclastic book assails sacred cows ranging from the World Bank to the malign role of Buddhist priests in the late civil war in Sri Lanka. The work is not reassuring. But its conclusion that humans can learn to live with declining living standards is more uplifting than doom-laden.' - David McDowell, Former Director General of the IUCN and New Zealand Ambassador to the United Nations

'Neither Pollyanna nor Prophet of Doom, Professor Scudder has drawn on his 55 years of international experience and presented a clear, hard hitting, extraordinarily well documented analysis of the critical and urgent global challenges that face humankind and of the transformations that will be required to meet those challenges. -- This is a very important book. It should be read by an informed public, but most particularly by leaders and policy makers of the world's governments, international organizations, educational and religious institutions.' - Lee Talbot, George Mason University, US

Unattributed: Global threats can be expected to cause a global environmental crisis and declining living standards for most people. Threats analyzed include poverty, cultural, economic, political and religious fundamentalism, consumption, population increase and degradation of the global ecosystem. Chapters on the United States, China and Zambia illustrate difficulties that high, middle and low income countries face in addressing such threats. The final chapter examines the type of transformational change required just to reduce the rate and magnitude of future decline.

News 2009

Dear Doug,

Great to hear from you! So you are the one who did the Scudder wikipedia site! I have been wondering for some time. What a nice gesture. Thank you.

In terms of China, I was back there in 2005 working with the Nature Conservancy (China and US) on the relationship between old and planned dams on Yunnan rivers (upper Yangtze, Mekong, Salween/Nu etc) on nature reserves. Fascinating trip. And I am currently writing a chapter on China in my new book ms (see below). So would be very interested in hearing how your work there goes.

On general update, in 1998 I took the Caltech option of having the next two years just on research to be followed by retirement to emeritus status when I reached 70 in 2000. Situation was ideal for in '98 I became a WCD commissioner and was able to spend most of the next two years on WCD work including trips to Brazil, Vietnam, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Eastern Europe. After the WCD final report came out in late 2000, I spent much of the next four years writing my Future of Large Dams book.

My main overseas work involves twice annual trips to Laos (I leave for three weeks next month) where three of us on a World Bank required Panel work for the government on their largest development project (a dam of course).Unlike previous such panels we have clout for the dam can't be sealed until we confirm that resettlement has been adequately implemented. Working in Laos since 1997 has been most interesting due to being able to observe a small communist country modeled on China trying to join the world system.


China chapter

The Chinese chapter which is half done is turning out to be fascinating for I have been able to look as continuity and change in one village from the mid 1930s to the present as illustrating at the village level (e.g responsibility system in the 1980s and privatization of the village economy starting in the mid 1990s) what I then show has been replicated in China as a whole with the same threats built large. The village is Fei's village outside Shanghai which he first studied in '30s, revisited in the '50s and throughout the 80s when he arranged for me to visit it. Bringing the situation up to date is a recent PhD thesis by a Chinese scholar now at LSE.

Once this tome is done (end of 2008), then on to my magnum opus on the Gwembe Tonga.

On a suggestion for your trip, if at all possible visit Fei's Village! Mind boggling!

That's pretty much it.

Warm regards to you and Lilyan for the holiday season Ted

December 7 2009

Related links

Lisa Cliggett. 2001 Carrying Capacity's New Guise: Folk Models for Public Debate and Longitudinal Study of Environmental Change Africa Today 48(1):2-19.

Sam Clark, Elizabeth Colson, James Z. Lee and Thayer Scudder. 1995. Ten Thousand Tonga: A Longitudinal Anthropological Study from Southern Zambia 1956–1991. Population Studies 49: 91–109.

Pages 95-96: "We have organized the demographic analysis into three time periods based on the different effects associated with involuntary resettlement, economic expansion, and economic decline. The first period, the 'Period of Stress' was dominated by involuntary resettlement from 1956 to 1962. This was followed by a 'Period of Prosperity', from 1963 to 1973, associated with the coming of political independence, and marked by rising living standards and economic growth. Government services expanded, with the provision of roads, schools, medical clinics, and agricultural extension. In addition, a highly profitable fishery sprang up around Lake Kariba by the 1960s. Educational and job opportunities increased considerably, creating an educated elite. These good years, however, ended in the mid-1970s. The major cause was the increasing bankruptcy of Zambia's political economy with the concomitant decline in public services and employment, and subsequent decrease in labour migration, all of which contributed to a precipitous degradation of Gwembe living conditions. Simultaneously, the war for Zimbabwean independence, waged throughout the 1970s, destabilized the Gwembe. Moreover, a series of natural disasters, beginning in the 1980s, intensified this 'Period of Decline'. By 1990, the mean income per head in Zambia as a whole was less than it was in 1970. Indeed, incomes have fallen so much that in Zambia today the proportion of rural population living below the poverty line is one of the highest in the world. Such severe economic decline has resulted in community unraveling during the 1980s in the most seriously affected villages in the Gwembe. As the standard of living has dropped, the incidence of violence and prevalence of accusations of sorcery rose. In addition, the consumption of alcohol increased; and reports of alcohol-related violence, including murder, have become common. The government's growing inability to provide health services allowed the re-emergence of measles and an increase in the incidence of malaria, tuberculosis, schistosomiasis, and other parasitic diseases. During the last decade drug-resistant strains of malaria and tuberculosis have become common. In 1983, the first documented cases of AIDS appeared in Zambia; and in 1989, cholera appeared in the Gwembe for the first time."
Pages -- : "IMPLICATIONS. The demographic rates described above have several important implications for our understanding of Gwembe society during the last four decades. First, while nuptiality

was generally unresponsive to socio-economic change, fertility and mortality were sensitive to 'stress' and 'decline' as well as to 'prosperity'. Just as Colson and Scudder had suggested, the wrenching process of involuntary resettlement provoked sharp demographic responses, with dramatic decreases in fertility and increases in old-age mortality. Moreover, while the rising level of income and government services in the 1960s reversed these trends, with a decline in old-age mortality and a startling rebound in fertility, worsening conditions during the 1970s and 1980s saw fertility fall once again and mortality rise sharply among the young and especially the old.

Secondly, both the rise in old-age mortality during the Period of Decline and the

startling fall in child mortality during the Period of Stress testify to the overriding importance of local health-care facilities. For two decades, immunization and aggressive public health measures virtually eradicated a wide variety of epidemic diseases in the Gwembe. The recent deterioration of health-care facilities and the consequent spread of tuberculosis among the elderly, and measles among children, however, draw attention to the need for better public health care. The Gwembe, l ike most of sub-Saharan Africa, has yet to complete the epidemiological transition. Moreover, the rise of AIDS in Zambia including the Gwembe will require extensive public education as well as expensive hospital treatment. In this regard, at least, government intervention is vital.

Thirdly, the evidence for higher mortality of males both among the very young and the very old indicates an unusual demographic bias. Previous scholars have devoted

much attention to the prevalence of excessive mortality of females in patrilineal societies, and in particular to the widespread practice of female infanticide and neglect of girls in Asia.52 Recent research has suggested that such behaviour may also have existed in the West, especially in the Mediterranean countries. The Gwembe data suggest that similar prejudices and customs may be characteristic of matrilineal societies, but against males, not females. O ur demographic analysis may, therefore, r eveal important cultural values which extend beyond the Gwembe, and which have been hitherto largely ignored.

Future research will have to determine the mechanism that underlies higher infant and child mortality of boys. Lee Cronk in an important study of another matrilineal society,

the Mukogodo in Kenya, discovered that parents were 50 per cent more likely to take their daughters to a health worker. Clinic records from the relevant Gwembe health centres may reveal whether similar behaviour was common in the Gwembe both for the elderly as well as for children. Explanations for the continuing drop in Gwembe fertility must also await further fieldwork and the analysis of existing data on educational levels, changing religious affiliations, and increased access to contraceptive services. Clearly, the Tonga have altered their demographic behaviour significantly in response to the tumultuous changes that have afflicted the Gwembe and Zambia since 1956. The wealth of information accumulated through the Gwembe Study provides a unique opportunity for continued investigation into the demographic consequences of socioeconomic changes in the Gwembe as well as important background information for a wide variety of non-demographic studies. To the extent that our results reflect the broad experiences of other African populations, the Gwembe Study wil l continue to contribute to our knowledge of African demography, and sub-Saharan African society in general."


Thayer Scudder