My first memory of David Harvey – How he shared his working draft with MSc students


David Harvey, 2000, Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development

I met David Harvey in person for the first time while auditing his course during my MSc study at the LSE in 1999/2000 academic year. I think the course was simply called “Historical Geographical Materialism” or something similar. It was one of the few courses that sounded anything like Marx at the LSE, and I was drawn towards it. After having had my several years in the private sector after my first degree, I was in thirst of input by progressive scholarship. I did not know David at the time, as I knew few geographers by then. It was a small seminar course, having only about 12-13 students, with discussions for two hours or so each week. Readings included his own work and the works of Gramsci, Lefebvre and more that I cannot remember. If my memory is correct, he used to occupy a small office where he held his office hours. Now that I think of it, it was too small a room for such a figure like David, equipped with fairly empty bookshelves, a desktop and a printer. It wasn’t filled with books, as I presume he was at the LSE at the time on a three-year stint and did not relocate completely. The office is what is numbered as S509 at present, and coincidentally, it happened to be my office during my first year or so as professor at LSE.

One day during the term, he came in with copies of handouts, and he told us it was a working draft of his new paper. I think he was inviting any comments from his students. The draft paper was entitled “Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development”. Another week or two later, he brought a thicker version of the same paper, revsied substantially but still a working version, and this time, its title read “Working Notes Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development”. While clearing an old ring binder from my MSc/PhD period, I came across with the paper copy again, and realised this draft actually was the basis for his 2006 Verso book Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development”, first published as Spaces of Neo-liberalization by Franz Steiner Verlag in 2005. As the course took place in the spring of 2000, it must have taken another 4-5 years for the paper to be substantially revised, perhaps presented at several academic occasions, before it came out as a book. The memory of him sharing his paper is still vividly within me, and I appreciated a distinguished professor like David willing to share unpolished version of his drafts and inviting postgraduate students to comment on them.

Latest LSE Review of Books Podcast on Architecture and Design: Framing the urban experience

LSE Review of Books is an online initiative that publishes daily reviews of academic publications across all areas of social science. Part of its initiatives includes a series of podcast, featuring academics’ views on chosen topics and the books that had some impact on their academic life.

Earlier in this academic year, the LSE Review of Books team kindly asked me to take part in their production of podcast series and present my own stories on those books that have had some influence on my thinking. The podcast has just been released and can be heard by visiting their web page. I genuinely thank Amy Mollett (managing editor) and Cheryl Brumley (multimedia editor) for giving me this opportunity to reflect upon part of my history.

Listen to the latest LSE Review of Books Podcast: Architecture and Design: Framing the urban experience

Below is the introduction to my bit in the podcast:

Hyun Bang Shin, LSE Associate Professor in Geography and Urban Studies, talks about reading Marx under South Korea’s strict national security laws and how this has influenced his own work on urban displacement.

The podcast also includes stories from David Kohn (architect and co-designer of A Room for London) and Fran Tonkiss (Reader in Sociology, LSE).

Below is the list of my own reviews that I have done so far for the blog:

Academic life, ethics and the importance of record keeping

I’ve earlier emphasised the importance of keeping all the records of your activity logs and correspondence (both e-mail and paper-based). This is crucial not only for the need of tracing the roots of your evolving thoughts, but also for the protection of your own reputation. Sometimes, you will need to recount particular events, identify what action was following which previous action on what dates, and what were the supporting documents to substantiate your own account of facts.

Very recently, with regard to a published paper of mine, somebody was telling me that I did not acknowledge his workshop in the paper’s acknowledgement, even though my paper’s empirical findings were earlier presented at his workshop and benefited from the workshop discussions. This was the first time that I had received such a remark.

The thing is, his account was completely groundless, as I did not present my paper’s empirical findings at his workshop, but elsewhere in a separate conference session on a different continent three months later (and the conference was of course acknowledged in my paper). He was present in both events (the latter event as an attendant), so it’s very possible that he got things mixed up. What I presented at his workshop was a completely different paper, and this was never published – he was informing people at the time about a possible publication project based on workshop papers, so I set this paper aside but no news of the publication proposal since then…

In order to point out his errors, I had to go through all my previous versions of the paper (across more than four-year period), dig out PPT files presented at both events, check the last-save dates, check e-mail correspondences and diary entries and so on. Thankfully, all the records could be found, but all these were really a complete waste of my time because of the person who just did not check the simple fact and could not remember what I actually presented at his own event.

Researchers talk about the importance of vigilantly keeping field diaries, minutes of meetings with interviewees and informants or personal accounts of events, etc. Academics teach their students about the importance of these A to Z of research methods. These are all going to be very important when triangulating your findings and contribute to producing evidence-based research outputs, as these records not only become the field data themselves but also help you establish an accurate account of what happened in the often chaotic field. It is important to apply these basic rules to one’s day-to-day administrative and/or academic life as well outside field research sites. One should avoid as much as possible not to resort to ill-founded or vague memories when making important decisions or remarks. Evidence-based thinking helps.

Well, more on these issues later when the summer term quietens…

Neil R. Smith, 1954 – 2012

Neil R. Smith , 1954 – 2012

The sudden death of Neil Smith, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geograph at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, comes as a shock, and Neil’s premature departure was never expected. A great loss to all those who fought for a better world.

I’ve only had a couple of brief encounters with him at academic gatherings – the first one at the Revanchist Urbanism workshop at the University of Newcastle in 2006 where he was an invited speaker, and the second time at the Asia-Pacific Network for Housing Research conference in Hong Kong in December 2011. While I haven’t had the chance to talk to him in length (and sadly never will…), I’ve always kept his writings close to me. They will surely continue to be with me for much longer.

Thank you Neil for what you left behind to be shared amongst us.

From Guangzhou to Hong Kong: Guangzhou students’ views on the Asian Games

My official schedule in Guangzhou is over as of tonight. Just came back from giving a guest lecture on Olympic Games and Mega-event Politics to the students at the School of Urban Planning and Geography.

When I gave talk on the same topic to some students at the School of Government a few days ago, I did an impromptu survey on how many of the people in the lecture room were in favour and against having the Asian Games in Guangzhou. About 30% of the attendants said they were against it, and 15% in favour. Tonight, I did a similar survey, and about 15% said they were in favour of it, while 5% said they were against it. Well, it’s difficult to know the full picture until one finds out what the silent mass really thought about the issue, but it was an interesting exercise. I wonder if there was any difference in the disciplinary approach that produced contrasting results…

I will be off to Hong Kong on Wednesday, the mid-autumn festival day when families get together in South Korea, and lantern festival takes place in Hong Kong. As was the case last year, again mid-autumn festival while being on the road…