Lawrence S. Grossman

Lawrence S. Grossman

Winner of the 2004 Robert McC. Netting Award

This letter is intended to provide testimony on behalf of Lawrence S. Grossman, Professor of Geography at Virginia Tech, who was given the Robert McC. Netting Award by the Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) at the AAG annual meetings held in Philadelphia, March 2004.

The Netting Award honors scholars who have successfully combined anthropological and geographical perspectives and methods in the study of human understanding and use of environment. Dr. Grossman has done ground breaking, innovative work in this field, scholarship that is internationally recognized and valued in anthropology, geography and development studies.

I am particularly pleased to write this letter because Larry Grossman took several classes with me at the University of Minnesota in the early 1970s. Larry took a course on third world development, audited a seminar on cultural ecology, and did a reading course with me when he was getting his M.A. in Anthropology. (I served on his M.A. committee.) He soon decided he wanted to minor in geography for the M.A. and then earn a Ph.D. in Geography. He was strongly interested in cultural ecology. His thoroughness in research and ability to synthesize and read critically led to an early classic: “Man–environment relationships in anthropology and geography” in the Annals of the AAG in 1977.

I remember the reading course particularly vividly. It consisted of weekly meetings at which we discussed the works he had read the previous week. One purpose was to get Larry “up to speed” on the history and lore of the field and contemporary trends in the geography of that time. This was toward the end of the “quantitative revolution” and the beginnings of the Marxist critique in geography. So we read a lot of Hägerstrand, HaggettBerry, Nystuen, Morrill, Bunge, Gould, and Harvey. Three things struck me about this experience. First, Larry was always well prepared; second, if I suggested in our weekly conversations that he have a look at some article or book, he immediately followed up on it; and third, he asked excellent probing questions and had good insights on the works we read. He was a mature scholar from day one.

I like to think that it was through the readings in cultural ecology he did, which included Harold Brookfield, Paula Brown and Eric Waddell, that he decided on getting his Ph.D. in Human Geography at the Australian National University in Canberra. His dissertation, which won the Sir J.G Crawford Prize for the most distinguished dissertation in the social science/humanities at ANU in 1979, was set in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. This research resulted in a series of valuable articles on various aspects of New Guinea economy and ecology—beer drinking, the cattle industry, sheep and ceremonial exchange, and voting—all based on superbly creative fieldwork. I particularly liked his adaptation of Alan Johnson’s time-allocation data collection methods for his research in Papua New Guinea.

He has carried a concern for time and labor to each new project and it permeates his book on the banana industry in St. Vincent.Larry’s research has always been sensitive to scale and to political aspects of ecological research—the state, global capital, etc. His book, The Political Ecology of Bananas (1998: Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press), has the best discussion of contract farming and globalization I have ever read. His research has the merit of being based on sustained, careful fieldwork. It also has the virtue of being based on repeated return stints of fieldwork in the same area, so insights on change over time are built into his research outcomes.

Larry has a distinguished record of scholarship and he richly deserves the Robert McC. Netting Award. I am deeply pleased to have had some small role in helping him along the wonderful career path he has developed.

-Phil Porter, Professor Emeritus of Geography, University of Minnesota

 

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