Doreen Massey: author of Spatial Divisions of Labor

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“Through her politically engaged books and essays, Doreen Massey, who has died aged 72, electrified geographical scholarship. From the 1970s onwards, her writings on space, place and power inspired generations of geographers and many others, including creative artists and trade unionists. From challenging the tendency to blame poor regions for their own poverty to articulating a progressive politics of place, she shaped a passionate belief that unequal spatial relations could, and should, be different.

Spatial Divisions of Labour (1984) demonstrated that a Marxian approach to uneven regional development and capitalist production could be combined with an attention to the dynamic trajectories and cultures of particular places. The essays in Space, Place and Gender (1994) brought a feminist perspective to the rethinking of power relations. Her concept of “geometries of power” drew attention to the ways in which different people and places experienced processes such as globalisation.

Central to her contribution was her “relational” approach to understanding space and place. Rather than seeing space dispassionately as a surface on which phenomena were distributed, she theorised space in a much more lively and contested way as a constellation of different trajectories of activity.

While she saw the role of capital as significant in the production of space, she viewed it as having a less determinant role than other radical geographers, notably David Harvey. This position was informed by a politically hopeful stance. If space was unfinished and in the course of being produced, she argued that there was also the possibility for it to be politicised and created in different and potentially more equal ways. In her article A Global Sense of Place (1991), she proposed that places were still significant and were being reworked through processes of globalisation rather than annihilated by it.”

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