Edward Soja, longtime UCLA scholar and urban planning professor, passed away on Nov. 1 in Los Angeles at the age of 75.
Soja was born in New York in 1940. He earned his Ph.D. in geography from Syracuse University and began his career as a specialist on Africa at Northwestern University. After being recruited to UCLA in 1972, he began focusing his research on urban restructuring in Los Angeles, as well as the critical study of cities and regions. His interests were wide-ranging, including questions of regional development, planning and governance, and the spatiality of social life.
“Ed was a towering figure in the fields of urban planning and the social sciences and a strong force in the department of urban planning for almost 40 years,” said Evelyn Blumenberg, professor and chair of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “His insight, wit and leadership will be greatly missed.”
His numerous publications — as writer, editor and collaborator with fellow UCLA urban planning faculty and scholars from across the United States and around the world — include “Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places” (Blackwell Publishers, 1996); “The City: Los Angeles and Urban Theory at the End of the Twentieth Century” (co-edited with Allen J. Scott, University of California Press, 1998); “Postmetropolis: Critical Studies of Cities and Regions” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2000); and “Seeking Spatial Justice” (University of Minnesota, 2010).
His most recent book, “My Los Angeles: From Urban Restructuring to Regional Urbanization” (University of California Press, 2014), covered more than four decades of urban development in Los Angeles as well as other urban regions. In his introduction, Soja wrote of Los Angeles:
“Its iconic imagery provokes exaggeration, fomenting emotionally excessive repulsion as well as unbridled attraction …. Further complicating any understanding of the actual place, Los Angeles for the past century has been a fountainhead of imaginative fantasy, emitting a mesmerizing force that obscures reality by eroding the difference between the real and the imagined, fact and fiction.”
“Ed Soja was respected globally for his innovation in conceptualizing ‘the urban’ and his teaching and mentoring of scholars,” said Lois Takahashi, interim dean of the UCLA Luskin School. “But I will remember him most for his enthusiastic greetings, his incisive humor and his inspiring curiosity. I will miss him terribly.”
During his long and distinguished career as a scholar at UCLA, Soja also devoted himself to teaching graduate and undergraduate students and serving as doctoral academic advisor to numerous Ph.D. candidates from the department of urban planning. In addition to courses on regional and international development, he taught courses in urban political economy and planning theory. He was also a visiting professor, at the London School of Economics Cities Program, an international center for architects, engineers, city planners, social scientists, community groups, public servants and leaders in the private sector.
Most recently, received the Vautrin-Lud International Prize for Geography for 2015. This prize honors the career of a distinguished geographer whose work has been very influential within and beyond the discipline. Unfortunately, Soja was unable to be present at the event in Saint-Dié, France, to deliver the customary plenary lecture. Instead, his work was explored in a roundtable discussion between many of his international peers.
“Ed Soja’s passing is a great loss to the urban planning department,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning and associate dean of the School of Public Affairs. “He was a giant in the field of social sciences, someone whose work has inspired and will continue to inspire us for generations. His recent award of the Vautrin Lud Prize — or ‘Geography’s Nobel Prize’ — underlined the enormity of his contributions to our field.”
The UCLA Luskin School will establish the Edward Soja Memorial Fellowship in his memory.
A gathering in celebration of Soja’s life will be held on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, 4-6 p.m. at the UCLA Faculty Center, Sequoia Room.
This obituary was originally published on the UCLA Luskin School website.