Deborah A. Thomas, Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and 2024 Guggenheim Fellow, is also a Research Associate with the Race:Gender:Class Centre at the University of Johannesburg. Her recent book, Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation: Sovereignty, Witnessing, Repair (2019), was awarded the Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Book Award from the Caribbean Studies Association in 2021, the Senior Book Prize from the American Ethnological Society in 2020. She is also the author of Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica (2011), and Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and The Politics of Culture in Jamaica (2004). She is co-editor of the volumes Sovereignty Unhinged: An Illustrated Primer for the Study of Present Intensities, Disavowals, and Temporal Derangements (2023), Citizenship on the Edge: Sex, Gender, Race (2022); Changing Continuities and the Scholar-Activist Anthropology of Constance R. Sutton (2022); and Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness (2006). Thomas co-directed and co-produced two films: BAD FRIDAY: RASTAFARI AFTER CORAL GARDENS (with John L. Jackson, Jr. and Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn), a documentary that chronicles the history of violence in Jamaica through the eyes of its most iconic community – Rastafari – and shows how people use their recollections of the Coral Gardens “incident” in 1963 to imagine new possibilities for the future; and FOUR DAYS IN MAY (with Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn and Deanne M. Bell), an experimental documentary that juxtaposes archives related to the “Tivoli Incursion” in May 2010, when Jamaican security forces entered West Kingston to arrest Christopher Coke, wanted for extradition to the United States, and killed at least 75 civilians. She also co-curated a multi-media installation titled Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston, which opened at the Penn Museum in November 2017. Thomas has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals across the disciplines.

Prior to her life as an academic, Thomas was a professional dancer with the New York-based Urban Bush Women, a company that is committed to using art as a means of addressing issues of social justice and encouraging civic engagement, and that brings the untold stories of disenfranchised people to light through dance from a woman-centered perspective and as members of the African Diaspora community. Thomas was also a Program Director with the National Council for Research on Women, an international working alliance of women’s research and policy centers whose mission is to enhance the connections among research, policy analysis, advocacy, and innovative programming on behalf of women and girls. From 2016-2020, she was the Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association, and was co-editor of the journal Transforming Anthropology from 2007-2010. She currently also sits on the Editorial Committee of the Caribbean-based journal Social and Economic Studies. Thomas has contributed to a number of professional associations, having been a member of the Executive Council for the Caribbean Studies Association from 2008-2011, on the board of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (2012-2017), and the Secretary of the Society for Cultural Anthropology from 2010-2014. She is currently the co-chair of the AAA Commission on the Ethical Treatment of Human Remains.