Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Article excerpt

Doreen Massey, 65, professor of geography at the Open University (OU), has authored nearly 30 books and published numerous research papers on subjects ranging from industrial location and regional inequality to globalisation and understanding space, place and politics. As she prepares to step down from her 27-year post. at the OU, she talks to Natalie Hoare about bridging the divide between human and physical geography, and her recent work with in Venezuela


I was born in Manchester and spent most of my childhood in Wythenshawe, which, at the time, was the biggest council estate in the world. Being born there absolutely influenced my career, as it meant that I was brought up with a strong consciousness about industrial location, regional inequalities and the unfairness of it all.

I chose to study geography at A-level even though it was by no means my best subject. I had a great teacher and there was something about geography that I had hooked into from an early age. I was lucky because we always had an atlas and a small globe in the house, which helped me develop a real appreciation of the variety of the world, which I've never lost.

I was tempted to do physical geography [at university], and I still retain a great interest in it. It disappoints me that geography has not, as yet, involved as much crossover between human and physical as it might. Every now and then, I try to think across that divide in the things that I write. It should be one of geography's trump cards that we have both sides within one discipline and, increasingly, we're trying to talk across the divide, which is great.

I was somewhat put off being an academic at an early age. I left university without doing any postgraduate work at all, even though I got a first. As a working-class girl, I hadn't liked what I had seen of the academy: it seemed so elitist, male and comfortable in its assumptions. So, I joined a research institute [the Centre for Environmental Studies] and worked there from 1968 until it was abolished by the newly arrived Margaret Thatcher [in 1979], who thought it was far too left wing.

I became very critical of the dominant industrial location theory of that day for its basis in neoclassical economics. But, I hadn't done neoclassical economics. So on the basis of 'know what you think is your enemy', I went to the University of Pennsylvania and did an MA in regional science, which included a lot of mathematical neoclassical economics. I came back and wrote a critique of industrial location theory that kick-started a long career.

During the late 1960s and early '70s, I was very much influenced by left-wing theorising. I wanted to be an intellectual who had lots of publicly and politically important things to say from a geographical perspective. …

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