Remembering Edward Soja (1940-2015)

leadImage_largeMurray Low has passed on the sad news of the death of Edward Soja. I first heard him talk on Postmodern Geographies in 1995 – this would have been work that ended up in Thirdspace – and the talk really motivated me to examine the spatial aspects of Foucault and Lefebvre. A review of Thirdspace was my first academic publication. I only met Ed a few times, but he was always very kind to me, despite the criticisms I’d made of his readings of those thinkers.

We first met at a Foucault conference in Dublin, and when he realised who I was (I think I must have self-identified when asking a question), he almost literally grabbed me at the next break, we headed outside and talked for over an hour, missing the next session, while he smoked furiously.

We met again at the 2007 San Francisco AAG, when Derek Gregory organised some sessions on his work. I talked about ‘The Political Organisation of Space’, his very interesting 1971 AAG report on territory and territoriality. Some of my ideas on territory that I developed over the next several years stem from my critically appreciative reading of this piece of his work. As I say in The Birth of Territory “it remains one of the best single pieces written about territory”.

I was at UCLA for a quarter in 2007, teaching in the Geography department, so I got to see Ed a few times, and saw him present on what became Seeking Spatial Justice. I remember one long lunch with him, and Neil Brenner, Jing Tsu and I had a lovely evening with him at his home and a local restaurant in Mar Vista.

The last time I saw him was at an AAG in Washington, DC, the year I won the Globe book award for Terror and Territory. Ed was with Allen Scott, and they both congratulated me, Ed almost crushing me with a bear-hug.

I thought of him the other day, when I heard he’d been awarded the Vautrin Lud prize (sometimes colloquially known as Geography’s Nobel). I really wish I’d made the effort to contact him to congratulate him – I was thinking I’d do it at the time of the ceremony. My sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

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22 Responses to Remembering Edward Soja (1940-2015)

  1. Pingback: Remembering Edward Soja (1940-2015) | historia pública

  2. Stuart – thanks for posting this. Many folk forget that Ed began his research life in Africa. He was taught, as an undergrad by Eduardo Mondlane, the founder of the Mozambican liberation movement FRELIMO (now and still the government). Mondlane became the first Mozambican to hold a PhD (in anthropology) and was assassinated by Portuguese agents in Tanzania in 1969. Ed himself once told me that he started his career researching geographies of modernity/modernization in Kenya and that led logically and inevitably to mapping postmodernity in LA.

    • stuartelden says:

      Thanks James. I read some of his early work on Kenya when I was first discovering Geography. It seemed very different, so it’s interesting he made the connection.

    • Ernestina says:

      Wow, I had no idea. Thanks a lot Stuart for the tribute and reflection of your experience of him. Thanks also to James D Sidaway for enlightening some of us over here in southern Africa. May his soul rest in Godly peace.

  3. alvaro domingues says:

    só falas de ti Stuart…. (you only speak about yourself, Stuart… )

  4. I often disagreed with his views but I always admired his passion and his dedication to his work. He was the real thing in a field too often inhabited by poseurs.

  5. Pingback: Remembering Edward Soja (1940-2015) | urbeurblog

  6. Christopher Soja says:

    Thank you for all of your kind words. He was a great father as well.

    Christopher Soja

    • Garth Myers says:

      Dear Christopher, your dad was one of my mentors for the PhD and MA and I will always cherish his guidance and support. I owe him so, so much in my life and career. We shared a guest house – all to ourselves – at a Northwestern conference in 1994, and he and I talked more or less non-stop the whole weekend. You know, his biggest boast – and of course he liked to boast – was this: as we walked across the campus to the conference center, we passed a park, and he pointed and proudly proclaimed, “that’s where my son learned to walk!” You probably don’t remember that, but I thought it spoke volumes about you father’s deep humanity, which helped me through a lot of tough times. My thoughts are with your whole family. Best wishes, Garth Myers

    • stuartelden says:

      Dear Christopher, thanks for taking the time to reply. I am sorry for your loss. Stuart

    • Ernestina says:

      Bless you and the family!

  7. Christopher says:

    It is with great joy to hear such kind words about my father. I learn more and more from people who spent time with him over the years. Some of my favorite memories are from the times spent overseas traveling with the family. He gave me so much.

    • postethotic says:

      I’ve only now learned of Soja’s passing and my heart goes out to you (Christopher), his family, his friends, and all the thousands of people whose minds he’s touched with his work and presence.

      I met Dr. Soja briefly after a colloquium he held with us (phd students) at the University of Michigan. I felt like I was meeting a rock star (had the jitters and all) because of the impact his research and writing has had on me. We bonded over being Polish and he cracked some great dry-wit jokes which made me grin ear to ear. It was an honor and I will no doubt continue to cite his publications prolifically – with each citation comes warm sentiment, utmost respect, and the desire to proliferate his memory.

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  11. Ed and I had a rather tumultuous relationship, one of genuine love and genuine aggression. I remember once being in a meeting with him along with a UCLA administrator. At one point he and I started shouting at one another and exchanging rather damaging comments. The administrator, not surprisingly was horrified. But she was even more taken aback when Ed and I suddenly kissed and made up and started laughing as though a cloud had never ever come between us.

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