A career constant: the influence of the American Association of Geographers

Dr Stuart C. Aitken tells us how his involvement with the American Association of Geographers (AAG) has interwoven with his career over the last 25 years.

“I went to my first annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) in 1983. At that time, I was a beginning PhD student in Canada, and the AAG was as much about a road trip from Ontario to San Antonio as it was about attending the meeting. I collected favorable impressions of the quality of the sessions and reveled in listening to authors who up until then I had only read.

In 1987, as an Assistant Professor at San Diego State University, I received travel monies from the AAG to offset the expense of attending the International Geographic Union meetings in Australia. It was my first international conference and I was now giving papers in the company of those authors I had heard in San Antonio.

A year later, the AAG invited me to participate in what became known as the Phoenix Group (from the location of the annual meeting at which the group ‘arose’). An exceptionally innovative idea from the AAG Council, the Phoenix Group comprised young faculty from around the USA, who had not done much, but were promising. There was no agenda, and the AAG looked to us for leadership. To the degree that we gave that, most of us also became involved more fully with institution.

In 1994, the AAG published one of my first books as part of its Resource Series. Sadly, neither the Phoenix Group nor the Resource Series still exist, but other good and many more resources do.

Later I was editor of The Professional Geographer and helped guide the AAG publications through a very tricky period of politics and transformation. It was during the groundswell of support for the publications by the membership to thwart an agenda from a few senior geographers that I realized how much the AAG was a democratic and member-driven institution. I also realized that the big names did not hold sway over the institution’s policies, projects and publications.

Since then it has been a real joy to serve the institution elected as a Regional Councilor and later a National Councilor, and to work as Chair of the Publications Committee.

It would be inappropriate to say that I owe my career to the AAG; many actors support me in that endeavor. That said, there is no doubt that the institution has been supportive throughout my career and it is a pleasure to give back when I can. I feel comfortable moving within and through the networks I am part of through the AAG, and I do my best to see my students develop similar connections.”

Find out more about becoming a member of the American Association of Geographers, and explore their journals: The Professional Geographer, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, GeoHumanities, The AAG Review of Books, and African Geographical Review.


Dr. Stuart C. Aitken is June Burnett Chair and Professor of Geography at San Diego State University, and director of the research center Youth, Environment, Society and Space (YESS). His research interests include film, critical social theory, qualitative methods, children, families and communities. Stuart’s books include The Ethnopoetics of Space: Young People’s Engagement, Activism and Aesthetics (Routledge, 2016), The Fight to Stay Put (Steiner Verlag, 2013), Young People. Border Spaces and Revolutionary Imaginations (Routledge, 2011), Qualitative Geographies (Sage, 2010), The Awkward Spaces of Fathering (Ashgate, 2009), Global Childhoods (Routledge, 2008), Geographies of Young People (Routledge, 2001), Family Fantasies and Community Space (Rutgers University Press, 1998), and Place, Space, Situation and Spectacle (Rowman and Littlefield, 1994). He has published over 200 articles in academic journals as well as in various edited book collections and encyclopedias. Stuart is past co-editor of The Professional Geographer and Children’s Geographies. He works with the United Nations on issues of children’s rights, labor, migration and dislocation.