Bob Fagan (Distinguished Fellowship)

Ctation for Distinguished Fellowship of the IAG
Bob Fagan
Conferred Cairns, September 2009

Robert Fagan has combined a distinguished career as an outstanding teacher and researcher with a wide scholarly role as a public intellectual and disciplinary leader whose distinguished contributions have profoundly influenced the development of geography in Australia.

Throughout his career Bob’s scholarship has been energetic, generous and inspiring. While completing his PhD at the Australian National University he accepted a lectureship in Human Geography at Macquarie University in 1972. In that period of rapid social change, Bob shifted quickly from classical geographical models to structural analysis of Australia’s economic geography. An interest in labour markets, corporate power and Australia’s experience of internationalization laid foundations not only for his practical engagement with a host of community interests affected by the changing geographies of labour, capital and power in Australia – trade unions, local governments, community groups – but also for an important theoretical contribution on geographically uneven development and the interplay between resources, capital, labour and place in the political economy of structural change in Australia in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Bob’s commitment to publicly accessible and accountable scholarship meant that he took his role as a public intellectual seriously and never limited his communications to published papers in low-volume academic forums. He has been one of Australian geography’s most public faces, making many media appearance and contributing to many community forums on key issues addressing the interplay of people, place and economy. Over a twenty-year period (1978-1997) he played a number of roles in high school geography, including a period as the Chair and Chief Examiner of the NSW HSC Geography Examination Committee (1990-1992). And his integration of many of the key themes of economic and cultural geography into his work in folk music has brought key issues of the social and human dimensions of structural change to a much wider audience than most academics can claim to reach.

He has been an inspiration to several generations of undergraduate students at Macquarie. His leadership style is inclusive and strategic, and has been central to the successful integration of human geography into Macquarie’s science and social science programs, and most recently into its innovative Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, where he was Deputy Director (2007-2009) until recently.

Bob is also widely acknowledged as an outstanding supervisor of research students and mentor of early-career geographers. Many of his graduates are now in senior positions in academic and public office. His contribution in this regard has not been confined to Macquarie. For many years he has participated in Postgraduate Workshops coordinated between Macquarie and the University of Newcastle. Here his deep engagement with and excitement about new ideas, and his breadth of experience frequently combined to inspire and ground students. He has also tirelessly supported emergent scholars through genuine engagement with their work and careers. This generosity to his colleagues has led to many acknowledgements in other people’s publications, and if this important indicator of intellectual generosity and disciplinary service were seen as a metric of performance, he would certainly be one of international geography’s best performers!

Bob’s intellectual generosity is also reflected in his contributions as an audience member, particularly in demonstrating excitement for the work of research students and early career academics. His incisive contributions have bolstered the spirits of many a nervous early-career geographer during their first conference outing. In such engagements Bob has nurtured new generations of geographers across Australia. This approach to research leadership and scholarly teaching and supervision has been recognized in awards from his university (2005) and the discipline, including the NSW Geography Teachers Association (2001), the Geographical Society of NSW (Macdonald Holmes Medal, 2001) and the Royal Queensland Geographical Society (JP Thompson Medal 2004).

In his research Bob has been a distinguished leader in the discipline whose advocacy of the importance of people and communities in structural adjustment in the 1980s foreshadowed the cultural turn in economic geography; his insistence on the integration of social and cultural concerns into the work of Macquarie’s Climatic Impacts Centre (1991-2004) certainly pre-dated the current emergence of human adaptation to climate change risks and laid important groundwork for disciplinary integration and cross-disciplinary collaboration both within his own institution and more widely through his roles in high school geography, the National Committee for Geography and the Institute of Australian Geographers.

Within the IAG, he has served as a Vice-President (1995-1998; 2001-2004) and President (1998-2000) of the Institute and has been active in the Institute’s study groups on Industrial Change (1989-94) and Economic Geography (1995-2007).

Clearly, such a distinguished career reflects Robert Fagan’s abiding commitment to the discipline and its community. But it is his passionate commitment to the importance of ideas that is his most distinguished contribution. In questioning the ways in which regional politics and concepts of geographical scale are interwoven; in challenging dominant ideas of globalization; in rethinking labour geographies and the relationships between industrial change and public policy; and in his most recent work concerning the re-territorialization of food systems at multiple scales, he has made a major contribution to Australian intellectual life and the development of geography in Australia.

In recommending the award of Distinguished Fellowship of the Institute of Australian Geographers, IAG Council acknowledges that Professor Robert Fagan has exemplified the idea of significant and distinguished service to Australian geography.

September 2009
Richie Howitt