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School of Geography

Professor David Smith


Emeritus Professor of Geography



David M. Smith (1936-2021) was appointed to a Chair in Geography at Queen Mary College in 1973 following earlier positions in the USA, Australia and South Africa. He spent a very productive 28 years at Queen Mary, including a spell as Head of Department from 1981 to 1985. David retired in 2001 and became Emeritus Professor and ever since the School has celebrated David’s contributions to the university and discipline via our Annual David M. Smith Lecture.

David’s academic career spanned remarkable intellectual breadth. He started out researching industrial archaeology in the 1960s, moving quickly in the context of Geography’s quantitative turn to writing about location theory. His books on location theory were hugely influential in the discipline and even amongst a generation of A Level students who became familiar with his name as they were taught industrial location at school! Through the 1970s David’s focus shifted to developing a geographically-informed version of welfare economics (see, for example, Where the Grass is Greener, 1979) which spurred a deepening interest in questions of geographical inequality and injustice. His work was truly international and collaborative and in a steady stream of books and papers he explored these themes in varied contexts ranging from Apartheid South Africa, to Israel-Palestine and Eastern Europe and the former USSR. In the latter stages of his career, David pioneered work at the interface of geography and social justice and in his final substantive book, published in 2001, explored the relationship between Geography and moral philosophy.

Along with several other significant former colleagues, David’s work was crucial in shaping the intellectual agenda and identity of Queen Mary's School of Geography.

A biographical memoir of David's life and career was published by the British Academy in 2023 and it is accessible here. It was written by Professor Tom Slater (Columbia University and formerly a student of David’s at Queen Mary) and Professor Roger Lee (Emeritus Professor at Queen Mary).


Research Interests:

Research areas: human geography; ethics

Current research explores the interface between the disciplines of geography and ethics (or moral philosophy). The purpose is to develop a more rigorous understanding of normative issues in geography, and in particular those associated with inequality and social injustice.

The first phase involved a thorough exploration of literature in moral philosophy, in general and as it bears on (human) geographical inquiry. This has provided the foundation for papers discussing moral issues in development, the spatial scope of beneficence, and moral aspects of community, as well as reviews of work at the interface of geography and ethics which attempts to identify common ground.

The work also explores other issues, such as the notion of 'moral geographies', the moral significance of boundaries and movement, entitlement to land and natural resources, and aspects of social justice.

As well as being concerned with moral theory, the research involves case studies. These provide contextual understanding, or the 'thickening' of such 'thin' general concepts as rights and social justice. The cases explore moral issues in South Africa after apartheid, the changing 'moral landscape' of the east European city, and conflict over land and settlement in Israel/Palestine. The research was supported by a Leverhulme Fellowship from July 1997 to December 1998, and culminated in a book Moral Geographies: Ethics in a World of Difference.


  • Smith, D. M. (1994) Geography and Social Justice (Oxford, Blackwell).
  • Smith, D. M. (1994) On professional responsibility to distant others. Area, 26, 359–67.
  • Smith, D. M. (1995) Redistribution and social justice after apartheid. A Lemon (editor), The Geography of Change in South Africa (London, Belhaven), 45–64.
  • Smith, D. M. (1996) The socialist city. G Andrusz, M Harloe and I Szelenyi (editors), Cities after Socialism: Urban and Regional Change and Conflict in Post-Socialist Societies (Oxford, Blackwell), 70–99.
  • Smith, D. M. (1997) Geography and ethics: A moral turn. Progress in Human Geography, 21, 596–603.
  • Smith, D. M. (1998) How far should we care? On the spatial scope of beneficence. Progress in Human Geography, 22, 15–38.
  • Smith, D. M. (1998) Geography and moral philosophy: some common ground. Ethics, Place and Environment, 1, 7–34.
  • Smith, D. M. (1999) Geography, Morality and Community. Environment and Planning A , 31, 19–35.
  • Smith, D. M. (1999) Geography and ethics: how far should we go? Progress in Human Geography, 23, 119–25.
  • Smith, D. M. (1999) Social justice and the ethics of development in post-apartheid South Africa, Ethics, Place and Environment, 2, 157–77
  • Smith, D. M. (1999) Geography and Ethics: Journeys in a Moral Terrain (editor, with James Proctor). Routledge, London.
  • Smith, D. M. (2000) Moral progress in human geography: transcending the place of good fortune, Progress in Human Geography, 24, 1–18.
  • Smith, D. M. (2000) Moral Geographies: Ethics in a World of Difference. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.
  • Smith, D. M. (2000) Social justice revisited, Environment and Planning A, 32, 1149–62.
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