Thinking of Edward W Soja (1940-2015)

I just heard the news that Ed Soja, noted international urbanist and scholar has passed away. For anyone who has been  remotely interested in the urban condition, Ed’s writings remain a source of reference that are both groundbreaking and contemporary in relevance. I was introduced to Ed’s work during my PhD days. I still regret not having come across his work earlier (particularly his critique of Lefebvre and Bell Hooks) for much of his work is still very relevant to understanding the role of spatiality in the built environment professions.

I first met Ed as a person when I joined London School of Economics (LSE) as a Lecturer in 2005. He was a wonderful colleague who, apart from being a leading urbanist, was kind, generous and always up for a good laugh. He used to spend the Michaelmas (Fall) Term teaching in the MSc City Design and Social Sciences in LSE, and that’s how I began to know him both professionally and personally. The first time I met him, he knocked on my door to welcome me to the LSE and then strolled around my office checking my books on the shelf. He saw my well-thumbed copies of Postmetropolis and Thirdspace sitting there with several post-it notes sticking out of it, and he smiled. Later, when I was writing my first book proposal, he read it and gave me useful feedback. But more than that I valued the insight and encouragement he gave me about the publishing process. That was when I also enjoyed our first discussion (and disagreement) and space and place. The next year at a colleague’s place for dinner, Ed came there with his wife. I still remember the laughter and light hearted jokes with which Ed made us all young urbanists feel at ease in his presence. His stories about the different places he visited and the different experiences he had had were told to us with wit and humour. One of his most recounted stories was about the house he had rented during his time in London. It turned out that this had belonged to Homi Bhabha, the noted cultural theorist and postcolonial scholar. Ed said he was learning about Bhabha, the other thirdspace scholar by living in the same house he had once inhabited.

Ed was a man of humility and generosity, who put me in touch with many networks and colleagues. He always had time to answer emails, and ask me how I was if we met on the corridors of LSE. His book Seeking Spatial Justice provided another set of path breaking arguments about the spatiality of social justice, which provided inspiration to us in University of Leeds as we put together our new MA in Global Urban Justice in 2015-16. I did not see Ed since I left the LSE in 2012, but his work has always been on the forefront of my thinking and writing about cities. Just the other day I was re-reading his Simcity critique in the Postmetropolis, as I was analyzing the visuality of smart urbanism. Postmodern geographies will never be the same without Ed.

Selected Ed Soja writings

Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. London: Verso Press, 1989.
Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 1996.
Postmetropolis: Critical Studies of Cities and Regions. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 2000.
Seeking Spatial Justice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2010.

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