A Bridge to the Future

An experimental geographical study captures the traditional socioeconomic fabric of monsoonal. Asia as a lens for the future.

Built every year for more than half a century, and dismantled before the annual floods, a 1.5-kilometre bamboo bridge spanning the mighty Mekong River between the rural island of Koh Paen and the booming city of Kampong Cham in Cambodia epitomises the ingenuity and resourcefulness of local communities. In 2017, the bamboo bridge was rebuilt for the last time, replaced by a permanent concrete bridge. Progress had come, and with it an end to a generations-long tradition and all its cultural, social and economic significance.

Capturing, understanding and gaining insight from these fading traditions is the focus of the work of economic geographer, Professor Katherine Gibson, at Western Sydney University’s Institute for Culture and Society.

“This research fits within the broader agenda of the Community Economies Research Network, which is an international network of researchers, activists, artists, and others who are interested in new and different types of economies and building more ethical economic and ecological relationships,” says Gibson.

“People living in Monsoon Asia have developed ways of adjusting to dramatic seasonal climatic variations,” she says. “They also practice forms of mutual support that share workloads, mitigate against risk and distribute wellbeing across the community. “Although urbanisation and the modernisation of agriculture has destroyed some knowledge of these practices of resilience, our research shows that there is still much that can be documented.”

She says these ways of working are unusual in an Australian context, but could provide lessons at home. “In the area of disaster preparedness and response, keeping diverse community economic practices alive can be crucial. For example, traditional ways of preserving food, collectively repairing buildings, saving and sharing finances, these are strategies that come to the fore in the aftermath of severe climate events that cut off communications and leave paths of destruction.”

By collaboratively working with scholars in Australia and Asia, Gibson has documented current community economic practices in a multi-authored article published in the journal Asia-Pacific Viewpoint. She also produced a documentary called The Bamboo Bridge, written and directed by anthropologist and filmmaker Juan Francisco Salazar, also a Professor at the Institute for Culture and Society, which premiered in October 2019 at the Antenna Documentary Film Festival in Sydney and went on to screen internationally at several film festivals, and academic and community events in 2020.

Need to know

  • For more than 50 years, a bamboo bridge was rebuilt every year in Cambodia due to annual floods.
  • The bridge was replaced by a permanent concrete bridge in 2017.
  • Western researchers produced a documentary about this called The Bamboo Bridge.

Meet the Academic | Professor Katherine Gibson

Katherine Gibson is an economic geographer with an international reputation for innovative research on economic transformation and over 30 years’ experience of working with communities to build resilient economies.  As  J.K. Gibson-Graham, the collective authorial presence she shares with the late Julie Graham (Professor of Geography,  University of Massachusetts Amherst),  her books include The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy (Blackwell 1996), A Postcapitalist Politics (University of Minnesota Press, 2006) and Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities, co-authored with Jenny Cameron and Stephen Healy (University of Minnesota Press, 2013).


This research was supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council.

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Future-Makers is published for Western Sydney University by Nature Research Custom Media, part of Springer Nature.