Allen J. Scott has advanced our understanding of how globalization is reshaping the world, furthered our knowledge about the burgeoning creative economy and studied where certain industries are located – and why.
Today, for his excellence in the academy through his innovative and widely influential contributions to the fields of urban studies, regional science and economic geography, Scott received a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from the University of Toronto, where he taught for several years in the 1970s.
Born in Liverpool in 1938 and raised in northern England, Scott earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the arts from the University of Oxford. He completed his PhD at Northwestern University in Illinois in 1965, and later moved to Canada to teach at U of T.
In his speech to the Class of 2021, he joked that his stint in Toronto, starting in 1973, came at a time “when professors dressed up for class, when information came primarily from the printed word, and when parking was five dollars a semester.”
U of T turned out to be a (relatively) brief stop. Scott spent the bulk of his career at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he helped put together one of the most renowned geography departments in the United States. He also made significant and distinguished scholarly contributions himself, with innovative thinking about the connections between industry, technology and location, and the growing importance of city-regions in the world economy.
While Scott has contributed immensely to the theoretical side of economic geography, he has also helped connect theory to policy. He conducted several studies in southern California – about the origins and development of the high-tech industry, for example. His book, On Hollywood, investigates why film production moved to Los Angeles from New York in the early 20th century – and why it stayed, despite globalization. (On Hollywood won the Meridian Book Award awarded annually to an outstanding scholarly work in geography.)
More recently, Scott has written about the immense growth of the creative economy. In an editorial for a special issue of the Journal of Economic Geography that he co-wrote with two colleagues, he defines the creative economy to include artistic pursuits such as film, music and fashion – but also, increasingly, utilitarian products such as cars, cellphones and kitchen utensils, which now more than ever are being designed with a distinctive esthetic. Because the creative economy tends to coalesce in large city-regions (such as New York, Tokyo, Mumbai and Mexico City), its growth has major implications for policy-makers and governments alike.
Scott has received numerous awards throughout his career for his contributions to the field of geography. He is a fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and of the British Academy. He has received Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships. And, in 2003, he won the Vautrin Lud Prize, known as the “Nobel Prize for geography.”
In his speech today, Scott spoke of how graduating students will contribute significantly “to the intellectual, cultural and political development” of society.
“You have acquired a deep fund of substantive knowledge; you have learned to think critically and to assess the weight of evidence in competing claims; and you have acquired habits of mind that will and ought to underpin a life of continual self-development,” Scott said. “In a world where darkness, prejudice and philistinism still prevail on all sides, the value of these gifts is incalculable.
“For each of you, graduation is the beginning of a life-project that will bring expanding possibilities of self-fulfilment to you personally. But it will also bring us all closer to the realization of a more human and humane society.
“Never stop cultivating your acquired intellectual achievements and never curb your critical facilities.”