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New Left Review 4, July-August 2000

Interview with the leading practitioner of a materialism Marxists forgot. What happens when space, not time, becomes the axis of radical analysis? From post-war planning to the cities of European literature, the limits of over-accumulation to the flux of postmodernity, David Harvey talks about his work and what it has tracked.



Since the war, the typical field for Marxist research has been history. Your path was more original. How did you become a geographer?

There’s a trivial answer to this, which actually has profundity. When I was a kid, I often wanted to run away from home but every time I tried, I found it very uncomfortable, so I came back. So I decided to run away in my imagination, and there at least the world was a very open place, since I had a stamp collection, which showed all these countries with a British monarch on their stamps, and it seemed to me that they all belonged to us, to me. My father worked as a foreman in the shipyards at Chatham, with its very strong naval traditions. We lived in Gillingham. Once every year during the War, we would be taken for tea in the dockyards, on a destroyer; the romance of the high seas and of empire left a strong impression. My earliest ambition was to join the Navy. So that even in the very gloomy days of 1946–47, just after the war, there was still an imaginary that encompassed this whole imperial world. Reading about it, drawing maps of it, became a childhood passion. Later, when I was in my teens, I cycled all over north Kent, getting to know a great deal about the geology, agriculture and landscape of our local area. I greatly enjoyed this form of knowledge. So I’ve always been drawn to geography. At school I was also strongly attracted to literature. When I got into Cambridge, which was still a bit unusual for a boy from my background, I took Geography rather than Literature partly because I had a teacher who had been trained in Cambridge, who made it clear to me that if you studied English there, you didn’t so much read literature as deal with F. R. Leavis. I felt I could read literature on my own, and didn’t need Leavis to tell me how to do it. So I preferred to follow the track of geography, though of course I never ceased to be interested in history and literature.

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David Harvey, ‘Reinventing Geography’, NLR 4: £3

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