Open Eye: Professor wins `geography Nobel'

An Open University academic, Professor Doreen Massey, is to receive the prestigious Vautrin Lud International Geography Prize - the geographers' equivalent of a Nobel Prize.

Professor Massey, the first female geographer to receive the honour, was praised by the prize jury for her role in the revival of geography since the early 1970s through research, publications and radio and TV broadcasts.

President of the Jury Professor Antoine Bailly said she was responsible for the evolution of a radical geography that highlighted the significance of the geographical organisation of society and presented new ways of considering regional and urban inequalities.

"Doreen Massey's educational role is recognised throughout the entire world and her work is translated into several languages, illustrating a prestige which goes beyond the geographical field," said Professor Bailly.

The Vautrin Lud Prize has been presented annually at the International Geography Festival in Saint-Die-des-Vosges, France, since 1991. It is awarded by a college of geographers as the ultimate recognition of achievements throughout the winner's career.

Professor Massey described winning the Vautrin Lud Prize as "an honour and a real pleasure".

"British geographers are at the forefront of research in a field which is increasingly recognised as being of great significance, both intellectually and politically," she said.

Professor Massey was born in Manchester in 1944 and was educated at Manchester High School for Girls, from where she won a scholarship to St Hugh's College, Oxford. She achieved a first class honours degree in Geography and later completed an MA in Regional Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Massey has been Professor of Geography at the Open University since 1982. She has authored or edited 18 books, more than 50 chapters in collective works and about 100 journal articles, and has made many contributions to radio and television programmes.

Before joining the Open University she spent 12 years at the Centre for Environmental Studies - a Government research institute abolished when Margaret Thatcher came to power. The Centre's brief was to investigate problems of regional inequality, inner city decline and general planning politics.

Throughout her time at the OU and the CES, Professor Massey's research has challenged conventional views of geography. In one of her early books, she argued for a radically new way of considering industrial geography and the urban and regional inequalities that are produced through it.

It was an analysis which urged the moving away from the simplistic `blaming' and `congratulating' of cities and regions for their economic problems and successes and to examine instead the processes of capital restructuring which lay behind such geographical inequalities.

More generally, she has argued strongly that we need to think more profoundly about the spatial organisation of society.

"Some of the greatest issues of our day involve questions which are essentially geographical," Professor Massey said.

"How are we to grasp the new geographies produced by globalisation? How are we to think about the identity of place in a globalised world? How can we retain an appreciation of local specificity at the same time as remaining resolutely internationalist?" she asks.

She has been a strong advocate for more rigorous analysis of the new global power geometries and a trenchant critic of today's form of neo- liberal globalisation and the huge inequalities it is producing.

Professor Massey is also a former winner of the Royal Geographical Society's Victoria Medal. Director of the Royal Geographic Society (with The Institute of British Geographers), Dr Rita Gardner congratulated the Open University academic on her latest honour and paid tribute to her work.

"The Society is delighted that Professor Massey's innovative contributions to social and economic geography have been recognised internationally by the award of this prestigious prize," said Dr Gardner.

"She is one of Britain's leading geographers."

Professor Massey will receive her award at the International Geography Festival on October 3.