Caroline Thomas, 1959-2008

November 6, 2008

Caroline Thomas, a leading authority on the global politics of development - and a former deputy vice-chancellor (education) at the University of Southampton - has died after a long illness.

Professor Thomas graduated from the London School of Economics with a first-class degree in economics in 1980, followed by a doctoral thesis on "Third World Attitudes to Intervention" in 1983. She later said that the internationalism of the student body at LSE helped shape her approach and intellectual interests, although even before that she had been deeply affected by television coverage of the Nigerian Civil War (the Biafran War). A desire to gain a deeper understanding of the issues relating to poverty and development, both in the UK and globally, remained central to her research.

Joining Southampton in 1983 as lecturer in Third World security, she became professor of global politics in 1997, head of the politics department in 2001 and associate dean (education) for the faculty of law, arts and social sciences in 2003. She served as deputy vice-chancellor (education) from 2004 until ill health forced her to step down earlier this year. She achieved many notable successes in this role, including the establishment of the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit.

It is no coincidence, said her colleague Tony Evans, reader in global politics, that she chose the title of professor of global politics rather than "international relations", which usually implies a focus on the interaction between states. "Her big achievement," he explained, was as "an early part of the movement to redefine the word 'security'. Up to the 1980s it was taken to mean 'military security'. In her book In Search of Security: The Third World in International Relations (1987), she helped give it a much broader meaning than it had had in academic circles, to take in food security, access to fresh water, environmental security, human rights, access to health. It wasn't about securing the state but the security that people wanted."

Professor Thomas' "interest in the disempowered and excluded" underpinned all her subsequent work, as she deepened her analysis of issues such as water security and the environment. Her books include New States, Sovereignty and Intervention (1985), The Environment in International Relations (1992 and 2000) and Global Governance, Development and Human Security (2002).

Dr Evans said Professor Thomas was "in the forefront of global politics in terms of the less developed world". But he said he also remembered her as "a challenging person who asked 'why?' a lot" and as a woman of "compassion and energy" who "never failed to enthuse students and junior colleagues". She died on 20 October and is survived by her partner Steve Morris and daughter Alia.

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