Doreen Massey, 1944-2016

One of the leading radical geographers of her generation has died

March 24, 2016
Obituary: Doreen Massey, 1944-2016

Doreen Massey was born in Manchester on 3 January 1944 and grew up on a large council estate before going on to an undergraduate degree at the University of Oxford followed by a master’s in regional science at the University of Pennsylvania.

She then took up a position at the Centre for Environmental Studies in London, although this was wound down after public funding was withdrawn when Margaret Thatcher came to power.

She therefore moved to the Open University in 1982 for the rest of her career. She retired as emeritus professor of geography in 2009 but remained prominent as an activist, public speaker and commentator both in the mainstream media and in outlets such as the journal Soundings, which she co-founded with Stuart Hall and Michael Rustin in 1995.

A pioneering feminist geographer, Professor Massey had a notable impact on her discipline through texts such as Space, Place, and Gender (1994).

She went on to develop this into a wider critique of current forms of globalisation and uneven development. She set out the basic agenda in For Space (2005) and drew out some of the central political implications in World City (2007), which attacked the dominance of the financial sector in Britain and encouraged her readers to reflect on (and take responsibility for) the effect of the City of London on the rest of the world.

Politically engaged to the end of her life, Professor Massey co-edited After Neo-liberalism?: The Kilburn Manifesto (with Stuart Hall and Michael Rustin, 2015) and made some trenchant interventions in the debate on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

“Doreen Massey was required reading for decades of undergraduates (including me),” said Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder professor of geography at Oxford.

“The first time I saw a very large auditorium at a geography conference filled beyond its limit was when she was speaking. And she spoke without notes, without slides – she could hold an audience in her hand.”

Professor Dorling also remembered a much more recent occasion when a group of students had occupied a university building in Oxford “demanding that the university take the housing crisis in the city seriously”. Professor Massey was “put on first very early to get a crowd for the entire day’s events, which ended late at night with music and comedy. The hall filled with students and locals, with children and people carrying babies, with people carrying leaflets and those who were just curious. Again, it was full.”  

Professor Massey died on 11 March.

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