Kedron Thomas is interested in the globalization of trade and legal frameworks, the cultural and ethical dimensions of entrepreneurship and business, the semiotics of branding, and the production of material culture. She examines how these processes and practices intersect in two sites: Guatemala and the US/UK fashion industries.
Her intellectual pursuits turn on the relationship between 1) various modes of ethical, moral, and legal regulation and 2) production regimes.
In Guatemala, Thomas has worked with small-scale indigenous Maya apparel manufacturers who make clothing that features unauthorized reproductions of fashion brands. There, she examined the cultural and moral context of brand “piracy” (as it is dubbed by international intellectual property regimes), as well as what Maya manufacturers’ practices of copying and imitation reveal about gender, kinship, and ethnicity in the region. This research resulted in a book titled, Regulating Style: Intellectual Property Law and the Business of Fashion in Guatemala. The book also broadens out to explore the neocolonial contours of the global fashion system. She argues that trademark law enforcement is an important part of how the fashion industry regulates style along the lines of race, class, gender, and geography.
She has been interested for a long time in how forms of moral and legal reckoning that hold sway in indigenous communities reflect the mounting insecurities and widespread impunity for violent crime that characterize contemporary Guatemalan society. In a co-edited volume entitled Securing the City: Neoliberalism, Space, and Insecurity in Postwar Guatemala, published by Duke University Press, she takes a closer look at state and local responses to rising crime rates and how these responses relate to larger processes of economic and legal reform.
As she continues her research in Guatemala on law, security, and entrepreneurship, she is also carrying out an ethnographic project (in collaboration with Robin VerHage-Abrams) that examines the politics of environmental sustainability and labor rights from the perspectives of designers, marketers, and brand and supply chain managers at fashion and footwear companies in London, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon. In each of these cities, people who work in the fashion and footwear industry are attempting to build more environmentally sustainable and ethical supply chains. Rather than gauging the economic or ecological efficacy of these efforts, her research focuses on the ways that evolving business strategies reflect the emergence of new and different social identities, relationships to commodities, materials, and natural resources, moral sentiments and commitments, and meanings of work and labor among managers and other white-collar employees. The project engages conversations on material culture and materiality, the meaning and practice of sustainability, changing urban landscapes and processes of gentrification, corporate ethics, and cultures of contemporary capitalism.