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Michael Watts

Michael J. Watts (born England, 1951) was "Class of 1963" Professor of Geography and Development Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and is a leading critical intellectual figure of the academic left.



Raised between Bath and Bristol in the UK, Watts received his bachelor's degree in Geography University College London in 1972 and his PhD in 1979 from the University of Michigan. His PhD work was on agrarian change and politics in Northern Nigeria, published as Silent Violence in 1983. He joined the faculty of the Geography Department at UC Berkeley in 1979, and served from 1994 to 2004 as Director of the Institute of International Studies, a program that promotes cross-disciplinary global and transnational research and training. He has supervised 75 PhD students and post-docs. He retired from Berkeley in 2013.

Watts was named a 2003 Guggenheim fellow for his research on oil politics in Nigeria, a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences [1] at Stanford University (2004), and the Smuts Lecturer at Cambridge University in 2007. In 2004 he was awarded the Victoria Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.

On 25 July 2007, he was shot in the hand in Port Harcourt, Nigeria by unknown gunmen.[1]

Watts is married to Mary Beth Pudup, who is a UC Santa Cruz faculty member, and has two children. He is a member of Retort collective, a Bay Area-based collective of radical intellectuals, with whom he authored the book Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War, published by Verso Books.[2]

He is also on the advisory board of FFIPP-USA (Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace-USA), a network of Palestinian, Israeli, and International faculty, and students, working in for an end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and just peace. [2]


An intensively productive scholar, he works on a variety of themes from African development to contemporary geopolitics, social movements and oil politics. As Tom Perrault notes, his work charted a "rigorous and wide-ranging theoretical engagement with Marxian political economy" (Perrault, 2004:323,[3]), with contributions to the development of political ecology, struggles over resources, and – more recently – how the politics of identity play out in the contemporary world. His first major study, Silent Violence, dealt with the effects of colonialism on the susceptibility of Northern Nigerians to food shortage and famine. Over the last decade he has continued to work in Nigeria, but on the political ecology of oil and the effect of oil exploitation on Ogoni peoples.

Watts's work has been much debated in the social sciences, in terms of its attachment to Marxist and post-Marxist theory, and in terms of the role of the appropriate role for academic thinking in contemporary struggles against inequality and poverty alleviation (Perrault 2004).


  • Watts MJ, A Mason and H Appel (eds.) 2014. Oil Talk: The Secret Lives of the Oil and Gas Industry. Ithaca. Cornell University Press.
  • Rajan R., Adam, Romero and Watts MJ. (eds.) 2013. Genealogies of Environmental Thought: Works of Clarence Glacken. University of Virginia Press.
  • Boal, I., C. Winslow, J. Stone and MJ Watts (eds.). 2012. West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California. Oakland:PM Press:
  • Peet R, Robbins P and MJ Watts (eds.). 2011. Global Political Ecology. Routledge.
  • Watts MJ (ed.) with photographs by E. Kashi. 2008. Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta. Brooklyn NY: Powerhouse Books.
  • Associate Editor. 2007. "New Encyclopedia of Africa" (ed. Joseph C. Miller) Simon and Schuster, New York (5 volumes). Second Edition. (ISBN 9780684314549 ) (First Edition, 1998, awarded the African Studies Association Conover-Porter Prize for Reference Books.)
  • Retort collective (Iain Boal, T.J. Clark, Joseph Matthews, Michael Watts). 2005. Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War. London: Verso.
  • Peet, R & Watts, MJ (eds). 2004. Liberation Ecologies (2nd edition). Routledge. (first edition 1996)
  • Peluso N. and MJ Watts (eds.). 2001. Violent Environments. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Watts, MJ. 2000. The Hettner Lectures: Geographies of Violence. Heidelberg: University of Heidelberg. review
  • Johnston RJ, D Gregory, G Pratt, MJ Watts, DM Smith. (eds) 2000. Dictionary of Human Geography. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Watts, MJ and P Little (eds.) 1997. Globalizing Agro-Food. Routledge.
  • RJ Johnson, P Taylor, and MJ Watts (eds.) 1995. Geographies of Global Change. Blackwell. Second Edition 1998, Third Edition in 2002.
  • P.D. Little & M.J. Watts (eds.) 1994. Living under contract: contract farming and agrarian transformation in sub-Saharan Africa. Madison, University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Pred, A. and M.J. Watts (eds.) Reworking Modernity: Capitalisms and Symbolic Discontent. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
  • Watts, M.J. 1987 (ed.). State, Oil and Agriculture in Nigeria. Institute of International Studies Press, University of California, Berkeley.
  • Watts, MJ. 1983. Silent Violence: Food, Famine and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria. Berkeley: University of California Press. [runner-up for Herskovitz Prize, 1984, reprinted 2013]

Recent articles

  • Watts, M.J. 2010. Now and Then. Antipode 41 (s1): 10–26.
  • Watts, M.J. 2009. Oil, Development, and the Politics of the Bottom Billion. Macalester International 24,11.
  • Watts, M.J. 2009. Reflections. Development and Change 40 (5): 1191–1214.
  • Watts, M.J. 2009. Radicalism, Writ Large and Small. In J. Pugh (ed). What Is Radical Politics Today?. London: Palgrave. Pp.103–112.
  • Watts, M.J. 2009. Slipping into Darkness: Nigeria on the brink. Counterpunch, 12 August
  • Watts, MJ. 2007. Revolutionary Islam and Modern Terror. In Allan Pred and Derek Gregory (eds)., Violent Geographies, London, Routledge, pp. 175–205.
  • Watts, MJ. 2007. The sinister political life of community [4], in G. Creed, The Romance of Community, SAR Press.
  • Watts, MJ. and I Boal. 2006. The Liberal International. Radical Philosophy, 140, Dec, pp. 40–45.
  • Watts, MJ. 2006. Empire of Oil. Monthly Review, 58/4, 1–16.
  • Watts, MJ. 2006. Neither There War nor their Peace/All Quiet on the Eastern Front. In Okwui Enwezor (ed)., The Unhomely. BIACS @: Seville, pp. 27–31 (reprinted in New Left Review, 41, September 2006, pp. 88–92.
  • Watts, MJ. 2006. Culture, Development and Global Neoliberalism.[5] in S.Radcliffe (ed)., Culture and Development in a Globalising World, London, Routledge, pp. 30–58
  • Watts, MJ and A Zalik. 2006. Imperial Oil.[6] Socialist Review, April.
  • Watts, M.J. 2005. Baudelaire over Berea, Simmel over Sandton? Public Culture 17/1. [7]
  • Watts, M.J. 2005. Righteous Oil?: Human rights, the oil complex and corporate social responsibility.[8] Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 30
  • Watts, MJ. 2004. Resource Curse? Governmentality, Oil and Power in the Niger Delta, Nigeria. Geopolitics [Special issue] 9/1.
  • McKeon N, MJ Watts and W Wolford. 2004. Peasant Associations in Theory and Practice. [9] Civil Society and Social Movements Programme Paper Number 8, UNSRID.
  • Watts, MJ. 2003. Thinking With the Blood. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 24/2.
  • Watts, MJ. 2003. Development and Governmentality. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 24/1, pp. 6–34.
  • Watts, MJ. 2003. Alternative Modern: Development as Cultural Geography, in S. Pile, N. Thrift and K. Anderson M. Domosh, (eds)., Handbook of Cultural Geography, Sage: London, pp. 433–453.
  • Watts, MJ. 2002. Migrations. Commentary on Sebastiao Salgado. Occasional Paper # 26, Townsend Center for the Humanities, University of California, Berkeley, pp. 35–42.
  • Watts, MJ. 2002. Chronicle of a Death Foretold: Some Thoughts on Peasants and the Agrarian Question. Oesterreichische Zeitschrift fuer Geschichtswissenschaften, 4, pp. 22–51 (and commentary pp. 51–61).
  • Watts, MJ. 2002. Hour of darkness. Geographica Helvetica, 57/1, pp. 5–18.
  • Watts, MJ. 2002. Green Capitalism, Green Governmentality. American Behavioral Scientist, 45/9, pp. 1313–1317.
  • Watts, MJ. 2001. Lost in Space. Progress in Human Geography, 25/4, pp. 625–628.
  • Watts, MJ. 2001. "2001 Black Acts", New Left Review, 9, pp. 125–140.
  • Watts, MJ. 2000. "1968 and all that...", Progress in Human Geography, 25/2, pp. 157–188.
  • Watts, MJ. 2000. "Violent Geographies: speaking the unspeakable and the politics of space", City and Society, XIII/1,pp. 83–115.
  • Watts, MJ. 2000. "Development Ethnographies", Ethnography 2/2, pp. 283–300.
  • Watts, MJ. 2000. "Development at the Millennium", Geographische Zeitschrift, 88/2, pp. 67–93.
  • Watts, MJ. 2000."Political Ecology", in T. Barnes and E. Sheppard (eds.), A Companion To Economic Geography, Oxford, Blackwell, pp. 257–275.
  • Watts, MJ. 2000. "The Great Tablecloth", in G. Clark, M. Gertler and Feldmann (eds.), A Handbook of Economic Geography. London, Oxford University Press, pp. 195–215.
  • Watts, MJ. 1999. "Islamic Modernities," in James Halston (ed)., Cities and Citizenship, Durham, Duke University Press, pp. 67–102.
  • Watts, MJ. 1999. "Collective Wish Images: Geographical Imaginaries and the Crisis of Development," in John Allen and Doreen Massey (eds.), Human Geography Today, Cambridge, Polity Press, pp. 85–107.


  • Faculty page
  • A video interview, Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
  • Perrault, T. 2004. Michael Watts. In P. Hubbard, R. Kitchen, and G. Valentine (eds.), Key Contemporary Thinkers on Space and Place. London: Sage. pp. 323–329
  1. ^ BBC NEWS | Africa | Professor shot in Nigerian Delta
  2. ^ [10]
  • Doolittle, W. and S.P.J. Batterbury. 2007. Michael Watts. 2007 Netting Award Winner, Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group, Association of American Geographers.

External links

  • BBC News"Professor shot in Nigerian Delta"
  • "Watts's lecture at the Hettner institute – Germany 1999."
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