New book chronicles professor’s ‘Geography Against Neoliberalism’

Clark University Graduate School of Geography Professor Richard Peet

The work and life of Clark University Graduate School of Geography Professor Richard Peet is the subject of “Richard Peet: Geography Against Neoliberalism,” a new book released in Spain.

Núria Benach, professor of geography at University of Barcelona, visited Clark University in the autumn of 2010 to interview Peet and gather contents for the book, which is the third of the series “Espacios Críticos” (Icaria Editorial). The series highlights prominent scholars and aims to make geographical radical thought more available to a Spanish-speaking audience worldwide.

“Richard Peet: Geography Against Neoliberalism” includes an anthology of texts written by Peet, as well as interviews, seven of his previously published essays translated into Spanish, and some of his new work focused on the ongoing global economic crisis. The book was launched in October with public lectures given by Professor Peet in the Center of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona and at the Catalan Geographical Society.

Benach learned in her interviews with Peet that in the 1970s Clark University was a center of the “radical geography movement,” a Geography concerned with social and environmental problems, and a discipline immersed in critical social theory. A group of graduate students and faculty started a radical journal called Antipode, and Peet became its second editor (1970-85).

“When we radicals moved Geography from studying crops and barn types to urban problems and development, it turned out that the available stock of geographic theories couldn’t explain very much,” Peet writes. In his class on the Geography of American Poverty, which was the first course on poverty ever in the discipline, he struggled to provide his students with complete or even available theories to explain the geography of poverty in the United States. Peet continues that “experiences like this drove many of us towards Marxism, a radical but also highly structural conceptual framework that could explain things deeply.”

Benach and Peet discussed this political-theoretical transformation, what it meant at the time, the critiques that Peet and his colleagues came under in the 1980s and ’90s, and the re-emergence of a powerful Marxist critique of neoliberal, financial capitalism over the last decade.

“We also talked about teaching at Clark, which consistently gets intellectually engaged, opinionated and expressive students,” Peet writes. “And they even do most of the reading! I think Nuria got the message that I love my career, and wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, or in any other place.”

After her extensive interviews with Peet, Benach returned to Spain to complete “Geography Against Neoliberalism, which is especially relevant for its audience in Spain, a country in the midst of the global economic crisis and austerity programs. Public employees like Benach, for example, just had their salaries cut by 20 percent, Peet notes.

During the book’s launch in October, Peet remembers walking on La Rambla in Barcelona and encountering a massive demonstration against the austerity measures imposed by the European Union – “and it was the police who were demonstrating!”

In Spain, Peet gave lectures on austerity as a class struggle to an audience of 250 people at the Center for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona and at the Geographical Society of Catalonia, co-sponsors of his trip.

At Clark University, Professor Peet teaches political Economy of Development, Development Policy, Explanation in Geography, and Global Society. His areas of interest include social and economic geography, political ecology, liberation ecology, development theory, geography of consciousness and rationality, philosophy and social theory, iconography, semiotics, and critical policy studies. He co-authored, along with several of his students, “Unholy Trinity: the IMF, World Bank and WTO,” which has been widely translated and re-published all over the world. He also wrote books on “Geography of Power: Making Global Economic Policy ” and co-wrote “India’s New Economic Policy: A Critical Analysis,” as well as numerous re-editions (with his wife, Elaine Hartwick) of the best-selling “Theories of Development.”

Peet has a B.S. in Economics from the London School of Economics, an M.A. from the University of British Columbia, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

He has taught at Clark since 1967.”