Remembering Neil Smith (1954-2012)

UPDATE: For updates on services and a chance to share your memories of Neil, see the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Neil Smith at the American Association of Geography annual meeting in 2011.

Neil Smith, a Marxist geographer who found himself at home in an anthropology department, passed away early this morning. His sudden and unexpected passing leaves many of us in a lurch and I'm sure that there are many reflections and in memoria to come as the many people he touched try to make sense of his far-reaching legacy. (See "Uneven Development" (available free! online) "Uneven Development Redux")

Neil will be remembered as a firebrand who minced no words in his critiques and left no sacred cow unchallenged in his contributions to geography, history, anthropology, and more. But here I want to reflect on Neil Smith as someone who was very fortunate to be his student. I always found Neil, in spite of his fiery reputation, to have a quiet manner about him.

On a fall day, much like today, over a pint of stout (much like the one I'm enjoying now), Neil and I discussed a brief paper I'd turned in, which dealt with my earliest forays into a little studied part of the world: the Triple Frontier.

His reiterated his comment, "This sounds like the prelude to a dissertation..." and that was all the encouragement it took. It was in his class that I came across my dissertation topic.

Our "Endgame of Globalization" seminar that semester quickly became a course where the students had free rein to explore whatever interested us. He was as much a participant as he was a facilitator. Neil's seminal argument about the production of scale is the kind of productive and provocative idea grad students love to pick up and incorporate in their own work. He was never proprietary or fearful of what his ideas might become in the hands of his students. His fearless generosity with his ideas made him an excellent teacher.

An Irish stout
An American oatmeal stout

Neil, I'm really thankful to have been your student. Oh, and that plant you asked me to revive never really made it, sorry!

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