Blog post

Remembering Marxist geographer Neil Smith

Audrea Lim 4 October 2012

With much sadness and respect, we mourn the loss of Neil Smith. Born in Scotland in 1954, the Marxist geographer was a student of David Harvey’s and teacher of many, inspiring countless political activists and intellectuals, and deepening our understanding of urban struggles and the process of gentrification. Not simply an effect of cultural changes within a city (for instance, the growth of a creative class), gentrification, Smith argued, is ultimately an economic process, one driven by those looking to profit by increasing the value of land.

Neil Smith’s loss will be deeply felt on the Left and beyond, and particularly in New York, where he was a professor of Anthropology and Geography at CUNY and Director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics. Colleagues, comrades and friends have been leaving thoughts and memories of Neil on the Center’s page here (where you can also find a growing cache of links to his work online), and will continue to celebrate his life and work in various ways in the days to come.

Here, for one, is a video the Center has posted of Neil singing the “Socialist ABCs” on the Shoreham picket line, showing his goofier side.

For those who didn’t know him, one way to commemorate Neil will be to keep his ideas and political contributions alive. We should read his work, engage with it, and act when it compels us to.

“Neil Smith’s Uneven Development is an essay in intellectual and political empowerment,” wrote his good friend David Harvey in his forward to the Third Edition of Smith’s work, “a nondogmatic and wide-ranging inquiry into crucial aspects of the human condition, one that can still inspire and teach us much about that other world that is indeed possible.”

But Neil should have the last word today. His closing lines from his Afterword to Uneven Development:

For better or worse, revolutions are the constant contrapuntal moments of history. We celebrate them when they bring a better world for us and excoriate them when they oppose what we take to be our interests or beliefs. One of the stunning things about the present is the extent to which the prospect and affect of revolutionary social change have been blanked from the imaginary of political possibility. It may not be too optimistic to begin again to encourage a revolutionary imaginary.