Edward William Soja (/ˈsoʊdʒə/; 1940–2015) was a self-described "urbanist," a noted postmodern political geographer and urban theorist on the planning faculty at UCLA, where he was Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning, and the London School of Economics. He had a Ph.D. from Syracuse University. His early research focused on planning in Kenya, but Soja came to be known as the world's leading spatial theorist with a distinguished career writing on spatial formations and social justice.
In 2015 he was awarded the Vautrin Lud Prize, the highest honor for a geographer and often called the Nobel Prize in the field of geography.
In addition to his readings of American feminist cultural theorist bell hooks (b. 1952), and French intellectual Michel Foucault (1926–1984), Soja's greatest contribution to spatial theory and the field of cultural geography is his use of the work of French Marxist urban sociologist Henri Lefebvre (1901–1991), author of The Production of Space (1974). Soja updated Lefebvre's concept of the spatial triad with his own concept of spatial trialectics which includes thirdspace, or spaces that are both real and imagined.
Soja focuses his critical postmodern analysis of space and society, or what he calls spatiality, on the people and places of Los Angeles. In 2010 the University of Minnesota Press released his work on spatial justice, which was followed in 2014 with his "My Los Angeles" published by the University of California Press. He also published in the critical urban theory journal City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action.
Soja collaborated on research and writing with, most notably, Allen J. Scott (UCLA), Michael Storper (UCLA, London School of Economics), Fredric Jameson (Duke University), David Harvey (Johns Hopkins, CUNY), Kurt Iveson (University of Sydney), and various faculty in the departments of Urban Planning, Architecture, Policy Studies, and Geography at UCLA.
Soja served as the doctoral academic advisor to many leading scholars in the field of urban theory and geography including Professor Mustafa Dikec (École d'Urbanisme de Paris), Dr. Walter J. Nicholls (University of California, Irvine), Dr. Mark Purcell (University of Washington), Dr. Diane Davis (Harvard University), Dr. Juan Miguel Kanai (University of Sheffield) and Dr. Stefano Bloch (Brown University).
Soja developed a theory of Thirdspace in which "everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history." As he explains, "I define Thirdspace as an-Other way of understanding and acting to change the spatiality of human life, a distinct mode of critical spatial awareness that is appropriate to the new scope and significance being brought about in the rebalanced trialectices of spatiality–historicality–sociality." Soja constructs Thirdspace from the spatial trialectics established by Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space and Michael Foucault's concept of heterotopia. He synthesizes these theories with the work of postcolonial thinkers from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak to bell hooks, Edward Said to Homi K. Bhabha.
Like Lefebvre, sometimes called a mystical Marxist, Soja demonstrates leanings towards a monadic mysticism in his Thirdspace. He formulates Thirdspace by analogy with the Aleph, a concept of spatial infinity developed by Jorge Luis Borges. Thirdspace is a radically inclusive concept that encompasses epistemology, ontology, and historicity in continuous movement beyond dualisms and toward "an-Other": as Soja explains, "thirding produces what might best be called a cumulative trialectics that is radically open to additional otherness, to a continuing expansion of spatial knowledge." Thirdspace is a transcendent concept that is constantly expanding to include "an-Other," thus enabling the contestation and re-negotiation of boundaries and cultural identity. Soja here closely resembles Homi K. Bhabha's theory of cultural hybridization, in which "all forms of culture are continually in a process of hybridity," that "displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of authority, new political initiatives… The process of cultural hybridity gives rise to something different, something new and unrecognizable, a new area of negotiation of meaning and representation."
Visions for Los Angeles
Soja introduced six visions for the City of Los Angeles. These are the following:
- Flexicity: Deindustrialization has been occurring alongside a potent reindustrialization process built not just on high technology.
- Cosmopolis: The primacy of globalization. Globalization of culture, labor and capital. Reworlds the city.
- Exopolis: The city that no longer conveys the traditional qualities of cityness. No cityness about Los Angeles. Growth of the outer city and city edges. More urban life.
- Metropolarities: Increasing social inequalities, widening income gaps, new kinds of social polarization and satisfaction that fit uncomfortably within traditional dualisms based on class or race, as well as conventional. New underclass debate.
- Carcereal Archipelagos: A fortified city with bulging prisons. The City of Quartz. More surveillance.
- Simcity: A place where simulations of a presumably real world increasingly capture and activate our urban imaginary and infiltrate everything urban life. An electronic generation of hyperreality.
- Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. London: Verso Press, 1989.
- Scott, A.J and E.W. Soja, eds. The City: Los Angeles and Urban Theory at the End of the Twentieth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1996.
- Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 1996.
- Postmetropolis: Critical Studies of Cities and Regions. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 2000.
- "Writing the city spatially", City, November, 2003.
- "The city and spatial justice", Justice spatiale | Spatial Justice, n° 1 September 2009.
- Seeking Spatial Justice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2010.
- "Towards a regional democracy?",Métropolitiques, March 2011.
- "Spatial Justice and the Right to the City: an Interview with Edward Soja", Justice spatiale | Spatial Justice, n° 3 March 2011.
- My Los Angeles: From Urban Restructuring to Regional Urbanization. Berkeley: University of California Press. 2014.