remembering Doreen

I’m writing this short post after reading an email from OU colleague Steve Pile confirming that Doreen Massey did indeed pass away on the afternoon of Friday 11 March 2016. I saw earlier tweets to the same effect and tweeted myself, and now it’s for sure.

Doreen has accompanied all of my academic life.  I read her book Spatial Divisions of Labour as an undergraduate (still an outstandingly important text, in my view).  She examined my PhD thesis (and told me I needed to write a methods section at the end of it….).  I met her on and off as I worked on feminist and cultural geographies in London and Edinburgh after my PhD.  I joined The Open University in 1999 and in the following years I worked with her on an OU geography module on globalisation and on a small research project on public art in Milton Keynes.  And even after she retired, for some time anyway, she often was in her OU office just down the corridor from mine, working on talks and projects and politics, always ready to discuss and engage.

She wasn’t always an easy person to work with.  She could be very critical; she could insist on things being done her way; she didn’t like any kind of admin.  She could also, far more often, be incredibly warm – to everyone and anyone, absolutely – and she was one of the most charismatic speakers I have ever heard.  I remember her tiny frame absolutely filling one enormous lecture hall with energy and passion, extemporising from handwritten notes, intensifying the entire space.  I can hear her voice now, and her laughter.

Some of her ideas – spatial divisions of labour, relationality, a global sense of place, throwntogetherness – have transformed huge swathes of human geography and beyond.  So many of us simply would not be doing what we do and how we do it without her work, even if many of us are doing different things from her.  Her work transformed human geography’s ideas, but she also transformed many scholars as people, supporting them, pushing them, inspiring them.  And that’s not even to start on her political work, from the Greater London Council to the Kilburn Manifesto.

I think it’s that massive humanity – including its flaws – that made me realise, this morning, after reading those tweets, that it had literally never crossed my mind, even though I knew she was ill, that she might die.  Her energy, commitment, the sheer intensity and consistency of her engagement, somehow made such an outcome an impossibility.  But it’s happened and I feel a massive absence now, a silence.

My tweet said RIP.  But actually, now, I don’t want to think of her resting in peace.  I much prefer to think of her arguing on, being thoughtful and awkward and sometimes difficult, never ever taking things for granted, always thinking towards openness and a different kind of future.

8 thoughts on “remembering Doreen

  1. Oh No! What sad news. Not that I ever knew Doreen personally, but it’s strange the way you come to “know” people when you use, and particularly I think, teach their work and way of thinking. It’s a strange intimacy. This is a great loss.

  2. Pingback: Tributes to Doreen Massey | Progressive Geographies

  3. Reblogged this on Jographies and commented:
    Geography has been in mourning the last couple of days as news broke that Doreen Massey, truly one of the greats of the discipline, passed away on Friday.

    My chance to meet Doreen sadly never came, by like so many sharing tributes and memories over the last few days, I have been profoundly inspired by her ideas, work and activism. She is one of only a handful of people in the last few decades to have truly broken out of sub-disciplinary silos, and indeed the discipline itself, to inspire, challenge and rethink the ways we go about our work.

    Her impact, academically and in the real world, is hard to under-estimate. At least two generations of geographers owe a huge debt of gratitude to Doreen and it is through this sense that many, myself included, are experiencing a deep sadness about her passing.

    I am sharing a post by someone who knew Doreen well – Gillian Rose, a colleague at the OU – who gives a much better sense of the person Doreen was and the true scope of what we’ve lost.

    The many emails, blog posts and tweets I’ve read in tribute to Doreen over the last couple of days re-affirms one thing. The importance of her work is immense. It continues to be drawn upon, read and taught by a huge range of geographers (and beyond). Whilst she may be gone, Doreen will continue to have a marked impact on Geography. Her work has changed Geography indefinitely and for that – thank you Doreen.

  4. Pingback: A tribute to Doreen Massey from Gender, Place and Culture | Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography

  5. When I was a first year PhD student Doreen came to present a seminar at my university. We all went out for a curry together. Many of us grad students were understandably in awe of a geography ‘living legend’. What struck me was the way she was so approachable and interested. She didn’t come across as a distant, academic superstar – instead she asked about us and what we were researching in conversations that went from her own work, the trials of “doing” a PhD and even football. It may sound quaint but it actually meant quite a deal to us. Her intellectual legacy was massive, she’s a giant within the discipline, but on that day she tried to make us all feel equal. Something I think back to every now and then…

  6. Pingback: photographing a smart city | visual/method/culture

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