An interview with the Nobelist Geographer Professor Doreen Massey

Doreen 1Η Doreen Barbara Massey έχει συμβάλλει με καθοριστικό τρόπο στην έρευνα και μελέτη της ανθρωπογεωγραφίας, στην προώθηση καινοτόμων ιδεών και μεθόδων για την κατανόηση του χώρου και του τόπου καθώς επίσης στη διδασκαλία και έμπρακτη εφαρμογή τους. Το έργο της στο χώρο, τον τόπο και την εξουσία έχει μεγάλη επιρροή σε ένα φάσμα συναφών κλάδων και πεδίων έρευνας. Έχει πράξει στους τομείς αυτούς πρωτότυπο επιστημονικό έργο, το οποίο έχει τύχει διεθνούς αναγνώρισης και διακρίθηκε ως ακαδημαϊκή καθηγήτρια και ερευνήτρια.

Doreen Barbara Massey contributed to the research and study of human geography, promoting innovative ideas and methods for understanding space and place as well as in teaching their practical application. Her work on space, place and power has been highly influential within a range of related disciplines and research fields. She has produced in these fields original scientific work, which has received international recognition and excelled as an academic professor and researcher.

H Doreen Massey, ομότιμη Καθηγήτρια στο Open University, Ηνωμένο Βασίλειο, ανακηρύχτηκε τις 12 Νοεμβρίου του 2012 Επίτιμη Διδάκτορας του Tμήματος Γεωγραφίας του Χαροκοπείου Πανεπιστημίου. Κατά την τελετή αναγόρευσης της Νομπελίστα Γεωγράφου Doreen Massey σε επίτιμη διδάκτορα του τμήματος είχα την ευκαιρία να μιλήσω μαζί της στα πλαίσια συνέντευξης για το περιοδικό του πανεπιστημίου «Το Βαθάκι». Ωστόσο, η συνέντευξη δεν δημοσιεύτηκε λόγω διακοπής του περιοδικού. Τώρα, 4 σχεδόν χρόνια μετά έχουμε την ευκαιρία να δημοσιεύσουμε τη συνέντευξη, με κάποιες νέες εισαγωγές.

Doreen Massey, Emeritus Professor of Geography at the Open University, UK, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate at the Geography Department at Harokopio University in Athens, Greece, on 12 November 2012. During the Award Ceremony in honor of the Nobelist geographer Doreen Massey I had the opportunity to interview her for the university magazine “To Bathaki”. However, the interview was not published because of the cancellation of the magazine. Now, almost 4 years later we have the opportunity to publish the interview with some new entries.

  • At the start of your career what were your ambitions and expectations as a young geographer? How did you become a radical geographer?

“I think I liked geography originally because of a fantastic teacher at school and because I was lucky enough to have parents who had an atlas around the house and I was able to be interested. I don’t like stories of origins but I was lucky that I had a good start. I think I became a radical geographer over a long period but I come from a northern region of Britain, Manchester, which was industrially depressed and it was a period of industrial decline and I think that got me interested in spatial inequality. I went to University in the 60s and that was a period of radicalization which was not just in geography but across the social sciences.  It was in universities and it was out on the streets. So being a geographer was part of being radical and they were all bound up together. I very much feel like a generally political person who is a geographer and who brings that general politics through geography as well. So that is part of how it happened.”

  • What are the qualities of a good geographer? And how are they taught at a university like the Open University where distance learning is the rule? How is it possible without field work?

“In part they are the qualities of a good intellectual. Always ask why, always go behind what seems like common sense, don’t take anything for granted, always push the question further. Ask what the terms of the question are and maybe you will have to reformulate them. I think that is part of being a good intellectual. Specifically with geography, I can only really speak properly about human geography here. But for me the founding concepts are about space and place and I think having a really serious spatial imagination is crucial for being a good geographer. Now people who are in physical geography would add something else and I do think that the geography discipline has a potential, which we haven’t realized, to develop that relationship between the human and the nonhuman, between human geography and physical geography. We live in an age of environmental distress, in an age of climate change and the catastrophic pollution and resource use. We couldn’t have mobiles, recorders and other things for example without plundering the Democratic Republic of the Congo for precious metals. So I have a hope that as well as the things I have been obsessed with which is thinking about space, there will be people who will come along and make that human/natural element a major contribution of geography as well.”

  • You have a very active political involvement in the UK, Latin America and other countries. How is this associated with teaching geography?

“Well if we start in most general terms, I think sometimes there is an imagination of irrelevance of universities: that academics sit in the library and read books and have great thoughts and then we take them out into the world (and then we have more notions about the questions that come from the world in the first place). If we go back to the previous question, teaching not only at a distance but also to people over 21, they may be 40, they may be 80 and those people don’t just want to learn what some old time theoreticians said. They want to know why it’s relevant and so we often draw in our teaching from what you might call a case study, by beginning from the real world, examining the real thing and drawing out from that the theoretical lessons. But I would say that the most important thing in education is to teach people to think for themselves. In a sense that is political. Popular education for me, popular democratic education and public education, is politically important. It is part of democracy. I could have gone to elite universities (because we have a hierarchy like this in universities). I was not interested because the Open University teaches everybody, you don’t need qualifications to go in and I think that, in itself, teaching people they should have the confidence to think for themselves-they have the right to think for themselves, the right to draw their own conclusions-and to give them the tools to do that, seems to me to be part of democracy. That is teaching in general.  But geography specifically is also in itself a thoroughly political subject. Almost every political issue has a geographical aspect, and/or an implicit geographical imagination behind it.  And of course space and place are full of social power.”

  • What advice would you give to young geographers?

“Well a lot of it depends on the teaching and opportunities that you get, but “enjoy it” really. I do think that potentially it is a fantastic discipline with a lot to say and I do think, I have said it many times over my career, that geography matters.”

  • What is the meaning of geography in our lives? How may we use geography to understand the present crisis in Europe?

“For me geography means having a particular stance in relation to the world, it means been outward looking. Geography is about recognizing the kind of simultaneity, the contemporaneity, of millions of stories going on at the same time, that radical simultaneity of our lives, and therefore being aware of the necessity to acknowledge and work with others. Geography in the sense of space is the dimension that puts on the table the most basic and political question, how we are going to live together. So for me geography in the end is about an outward looking-ness and the fact that we are all, whether we are talking about ‘we’ as a person, ‘we’ as a Greek society, ‘we’ as Europe, whatever ‘we’ it is, part of a much more multiple world and the question of negotiating and recognizing that multiplicity is part of what it means for me being a geographer.”

  • Can you predict the role that geography will play in the future?

“No, as with all futures and this is actually an important point because all futures are open. There are alternatives, and it is up to us to make the future. You have got to make sure that geography and a good kind of radical geography is contributing to make a new future because if we are going to have a chance of making a new society, it will need a new geography too. Geography, from social to environmental and from global systems to the intimacy of a household and even the geographies inside our heads, is kind of trying to think about those kinds of spatialities in an imaginative way and then work with them politically I think.”

Interviewed by Despoina Kanteler

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