Caltech Home > HSS Home > People > Thayer Scudder
open search form

Thayer Scudder

Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus
Thayer Scudder
Contact information for Thayer Scudder
Contact Method Value
Administrative Assistant:
A.B., Harvard College, 1952; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1960. Assistant Professor, Caltech, 1964-66; Associate Professor, 1966-69; Professor, 1969-2000; Professor Emeritus, 2000-.

Research Interests

Long-term Community Studies; Socio-economic Impacts of Large-scale Development Projects in the Tropics and Subtropics


  • Long-term Impacts of large dams on free flowing rivers and on associated river basin communities.
  • Longitudinal Study of 57,000 Gwembe Tonga who were resettled in the late 1950s in connection with the construction of the Kariba Dam.
  • Development Anthropology.
  • Impacts of Nations and International Institutions on the Global Ecosystem.


In 1956 Elizabeth Colson (who died in 2016) and Thayer Scudder initiated a study of 57,000 Gwembe Tonga prior to their compulsory resettlement in connection with the construction of the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River. Though both researchers documented the people's socio-cultural systems, Scudder concentrated on economic activities and the Gwembe Tonga's relationship to the Middle Zambezi Valley. In 1962 they returned for a further year's study that concentrated on how the people coped with resettlement.

In the mid-1960s they decided to extend what originally had been designed and financed as a before and after study by the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute (now part of the University of Zambia) into a more systematic long-term study which continues at this time. In the 1970s Colson and Scudder recruited and supervised five graduate students who expanded the scope of the Gwembe Tonga Research Program (GTRP) to further include those Gwembe Tonga who had migrated from the Middle Zambezi Valley to rural areas and cities on the Zambian Plateau. One of those researchers, Lisa Cliggett, in turn, arranged for one of her students, Allison Harnish to join the GTRP and who then recruited in 2017 a fifth generation GTRP researcher.

In 1962, while an Assistant Professor at the American University of Cairo, Scudder had the opportunity to undertake a second resettlement study, as a team member of the University's Nubian Ethnographic Survey, of 50,000 Egyptian Nubians prior to their resettlement in connection with the Aswan High Dam. Being the only scholar in the first half of the 1960s with such experience led to dam consultancies and dam advisory positions on panels of environmental and social experts with such organizations as the Ford Foundation, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the UN Development Programme, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and US Agency for International Development. Assignments in over 20 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia enabled Scudder to pioneer the comparative analysis of how up river and down river communities responded to the construction of such large dams as the Ivory Coast's Kossou, Nigeria's Kainji, India's Sardar Sarovar, Laos' Nam Theun 2, and large dams within Sri Lanka's Mahaweli Project.

In 1976 Scudder joined David Brokensha and Michael Horowitz in founding the non-profit Institute for Development Anthropology (IDA). According to the Institute Brochure, IDA sought to "enhance the ability of low-income populations around the world to defend their human rights through programs and projects designed to promote growth and a more equitable distribution of the world's resources." Between 1976 and 1995 IDA researchers worked throughout the world's late developing countries with special emphasis on river basins in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, land settlement in South America and elsewhere, household agriculture and livestock management, and community forestry. By the mid-1990s the Institute no longer could function as the founders intended. Because budgets had declined from $1,757,337 in 1990 to $905,389 in 1993, the Institute could no longer fund staff salaries and benefits and office expenses. Changing National and International factors were largely responsible for IDA's closure. Though IDA had received large awards from UNDP and other international agencies, our largest single and most reliable source of funding was the US Agency of International Development and AID's funding, organization and number of countries receiving assistance had been radically cut back in the mid-1990s.

Selected Awards

  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellow, 1975.
  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as of January 1980.
  • First Recipient of the Solon T. Kimball Award of the American Anthropological Association for Public and Applied Anthropology, 1984.
  • Recipient of the Edward J. Lehman Award of the American Anthropological Association for "forwarding the interests of anthropology by demonstrating the discipline's relevance to government, business and industry," 1991.
  • Commissioner, World Commission on Dams, 1998 – 2000.
  • First recipient of the Lucy Mair Medal for Applied Anthropology of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, April 1998.
  • 1999 Bronislaw Malinowski Awardee of the Society for Applied Anthropology, May, 1998.
  • 2005 The John Phillips Award presented by the Trustees of the Phillips Exeter Academy.
  • Academic Years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Lecturer with two day visits to the University of the Pacific (California), Macalester College (Minnesota), Hobart and William Smith College (New York), Birmingham-Southern College (Alabama) and the University of Mississippi.
  • Excellence in Teaching given by the Board of Directors of the Associated Students of California Institute of Technology: Annual Award , February 27, 1984, June 8, 1988, and 1990-91.

Selected Publications

1962   The Ecology of the Gwembe Tonga. Manchester University Press for the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute. 274 pp.

1966   "Man-Made Lakes and Population Relocation in Africa." In Man-Made Lakes, edited by R. Lowe-McConnell, pp. 99-108. London: Academic Press for the Institute of Biology.

1971   Gathering Among African Woodland Savannah Cultivators--A Case Study: The Gwembe Tonga. Zambian Papers, no. 5, pp. 1-50. Manchester University Press for the Institute for African Studies, University of Zambia.

1972   "Ecological Bottlenecks and the Development of the Kariba Lake Basin." In The Careless Technology: Ecology and International Development, edited by M. T. Farvar and J. P. Milton, pp. 206-235. New York: Natural History Press.

1973   "Summary: Resettlement." In Man-Made Lakes: Their Problems and Environmental Effects, edited by W. C. Ackermann, G. F. White, and E. B. Worthington. Geophysical Monograph 17, pp. 707-719. Washington, D.C.: American Geophysical Union.

1973   "The Human Ecology of Big Projects: River Basin Development and Resettlement." In Annual Review of Anthropology, edited by B. Siegel, pp. 45-55. Palo Alto, California: Annual Reviews, Inc.

1975   With Elizabeth Colson. "New Economic Relationships Between the GwembeValley and the Line of Rail." In Town and Country in Central and Eastern Africa, edited by David Parkin, pp. 190-210. London: Oxford University Press for the International African Institute.

1976   "Social Anthropology and the Reconstruction of Prehistoric Land Use Systems in Tropical Africa: A Cautionary Case Study from Zambia." In Origins of African Plant Domestication, edited by J. R. Harlan et al., pp. 357-381. The Hague: Mouton.

1979   With Elizabeth Colson. "Long-Term Research in Gwembe Valley, Zambia." In Long-Term Field Research in Social Anthropology, edited by George Foster, Thayer Scudder, Elizabeth Colson, and Robert Van Kemper, pp. 227-254. London: Academic Press.

1980   "River Basin Development and Local Initiative in African Savanna Environments." In Human Ecology in Savanna Environments, edited by David R. Harris. London: Academic Press.

1980   With Elizabeth Colson. Secondary Education and the Formation of an Elite: The Impact of Education on Gwembe District, Zambia. London: Academic Press.

1982   No Place to Go: The Impacts of Forced Relocation on Navajos, with the assistance of D. Aberle, K. Begishe, E. Colson, C. Etsitty, J. Joe, J. Kammer, M. E. D. Scudder, J. Serena, B. B. G. Tippenconnie, R. Walters, and J. Williamson. Philadelphia: ISHI.

1982   With Elizabeth Colson. "From Welfare to Development: A Conceptual Framework for the Analysis of Dislocated People." In Involuntary Migration and Resettlement: The Problems and Responses of Dislocated People, edited by A. Hansen and A. Oliver-Smith. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

1982    The Development Potential of New Lands Settlement in the Tropics and Subtropics: A Global State-Of-The-Art-Evaluation with Specific Emphasis on Policy Implications, Executive Summary. U.S. Agency for International Development Program Evaluation Discussion Paper No. 21. Washington, D.C.: U.S. AID.

1985    A History of Development in the Zambian Portion of the Middle Zambezi Valley and the Lake Kariba Basin. Institute for Development Anthropology Working Paper 22. Binghamton: Institute for Development Anthropology.

1985    "A Sociological Framework for the Analysis of New Lands Settlements." In Putting People First: Sociological Variables in Rural Development, edited by Michael M. Cernea. London: Oxford University Press for the World Bank.

1987   "Opportunities, Issues, and Achievements in Development Anthropology Since the Mid-1960's: A Personal View." In Applied Anthropology in America, edited by Elizabeth M. Eddy and William L. Partridge. New York: Columbia University Press, 2nd ed. (Rewritten version of a talk presented during the 1985 Harry Hoijer Lecture Series at UCLA).

1988   With Elizabeth Colson. For Prayer and Profit: The Ritual, Economic and Social Importance of Beer in Gwembe Valley, 1950-1982. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

1988   "The Institute for Development Anthropology: The Case for Anthropological Participation in the Development Process." In Production and Autonomy: Anthropological Perspectives on Development, edited by John W. Bennett and John R. Bowen, University Press of America, pp. 365-385.

1988   Revision of "A Sociological Framework for the Analysis of New Land Settlements." In Putting People First: Sociological Variables in Rural Development, revised and enlarged edition edited by Michael M. Cernea. London: Oxford University Press for the World Bank.

1993   The IUCN Review of the Southern Okavango Integrated Water Development Project. Senior author with R. E. Manley, R. W. Coley, R. K. Davis, J. Green, G. W. Howard, S. W. Lawry, D. Martz, Peter P. Rogers, A. R. D. Taylor, S. D. Turner, G. F. White, E. P. Wright. The IUCN Wetlands Programme. Samara Publishing Company for IUCN (World Conservation Union), Gland, Switzerland.

1993   "Development Strategies for Botswana's Okavango Delta." In Hydraulics 1993. Proceedings of the 1993 National Conference on Hydraulic Engineering and International Symposium on Engineering Hydrology. New York: American Society of Civil Engineers.

1993   "Monitoring a Large-Scale Resettlement Program with Repeated Household Interviews." In Rapid Appraisal Methods edited by Krishna Kumar. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.

1993   "Development-induced Relocation and Refugee Studies: 37 Years of Change and Continuity among Zambia's Gwembe Tonga." Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 6, (2), pp. 123-152. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

1997   Chapters on "Social Impacts" (pp. 623-665) and "Resettlement" (pp. 667-710) in Water Resources: Environmental Planning, Management and Development, edited by Asit K. Biswas, New York: McGraw Hill.

1997   "The Emerging Global Crisis and Development Anthropology: Can We Have An Impact?" 1999 Malinowski Award Lecture. Human Organization. Vol. 58, No. 4: 351 – 364.

1997   With C. Petit (Senior Author) and E. Lambin (Third Author), "Quantifying Processes of land-cover change by remote sensing: resettlement and rapid land-cover changes in south-eastern Zambia." Int. J.Remote Sensing. Vol. 22, No. 17:3435 – 3456.

2002   With Elizabeth Colson (Junior Author), "Long-Term Research in Gwembe Valley, Zambia." In Chronicling Cultures: Long-Term Field Research in Anthropology, edited by Robert V. Kemper and Anya Peterson Royce, pp. 197 - 238. Walnut Creek, California: Altamira Press.

2005   The Future of Large Dams: Dealing with social, environmental, institutional and political costs. London: Earthscan (paper back 2006; published in Chinese by the Chinese Press in 2008).

2007   "A History of Development and Downturn in Zambia's Gwembe Valley: 1901 – 2002." In The Tonga-Speaking Peoples of Zambia and Zimbabwe edited by Chet Lancaster and Kenneth Vickery, pp.307-343. Lanham: University Press of America.

2008   "Hydropower corruption and the politics of resettlement." In Chapter 5 - Water for Energy. Global Corruption Report 2008: Corruption in the Water Sector edited by Dieter Zinnbauer and Rebecca Dobson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for Transparency International. Pp. 96-99.

2008   "Okavango River Basin." In Management of Transboundary Rivers and Lakes edited by O.Varis, C. Tortajada and A.K. Biswas. Berlin: Springer Publishing. Pp 81-103.

2009   "Resettlement Theory and the Kariba Case: An Anthropology of Resettlement." In Anthony Oliver-Smith (ed). Development & Dispossession: The Crisis of Forced Displacement and Resettlement. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press. Pp. 25-47.

2010   Global Threats, Global Futures: Living with Declining Living Standards. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing. 292 pages.

2010   With Brian D. Richter, Sandra Postel, Carmen Ravenga et al. "Lost in Development's Shadow: The Downstream Human Consequences of Dams." Water Alternatives. Special Issue. 3 (2).

2012   "Resettlement Outcomes of Large Dams." In Impacts of Large Dams: A Global Assessment edited by Tortajada, Cecilia, Altinbilek, Dogan. and Asit K. Biswas. Berlin: Springer Publishing. Chapter 3: pp 37-67.

2016   Aswan High Dam Resettlement of Egyptian Nubians. Springer Briefs on Case Studies of Sustainable Development. Singapore: Springer Nature.

2017   THE GOOD MEGA DAM: Does It Exist, All Things Considered? In The Oxford Handbook of Megaproject Management edited by Bent Flyvbjerg. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Work in Progress

1: Large Dams and the Destruction of Global River Systems and the Impoverishment of a Majority of Their Inhabitants: A Global Tipping Point Survey Based on Sixty Years of International Research in four Parts. Part I: In Search of a Career and Myself. Part II 1962-1973: Do Large Dams Provide an Exceptional Opportunity for Integrated River Basin Development? Part III 1976-1995: A History of the International Activities of the Institute for Development Anthropology. Part IV My Increasing Disillusionment with the World Bank's Large Dam Projects, Implementation of the Bank's Environmental and Social Policies, and the Planning, Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation of Large Dam Projects.

2: A Sixty Year History of the Gwembe Tonga Based on Long-term Research Before and After the Construction of the Kariba Dam in 1958.