Milton Santos

Milton Almeida dos Santos (May 3, 1926 – June 24, 2001) was a Brazilian geographer and geography scholar who had a degree in law. He became known for his pioneering works in several branches of geography, notably urban development in developing countries. He is considered the father of critical geography in Brazil. Santos was a recipient of the Vautrin Lud Prize, often seen as geography's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, and a posthumous recipient of the Prêmio Anísio Teixeira, awarded every five years by the Brazilian agency for the improvement of higher education personnel to distinguished contributors to research and development in Brazil.


Santos was born in Brotas de Macaúbas, Bahia, Brazil on May 3, 1926. His parents were elementary school teachers who home-schooled him. His Black paternal grandfather had been formerly enslaved. By the time Santos was eight, he was through with his elementary education. From 1934 to 1936, he lived in Alcobaça, where he went to study French and "good manners".

Santos taught geography and math to fellow high-school students in order to finance his pre-law in Salvador. He graduated in law from the Federal University of Bahia but decided not to practice, becoming instead a high-school geography teacher in Ilhéus. There, he met and married his first wife Jandira, who gave birth to their son Milton filho. Also in Ilhéus, Santos worked on the side as a journalist for the A Tarde newspaper.

Santos studied and taught in Europe, the Americas, and Africa. He completed his PhD at the University of Strasbourg in 1958 under Jean Tricart. Prior to being exiled by the Brazilian military dictatorship, he was forbidden to leave the country and could do so only after a negotiation between the French ambassador and the government. He managed to turn an otherwise painful thirteen-year exile into a successful international career. He lived in Bordeaux and Toulouse, where he met geography student Hélène, who was to become his second wife and give birth to son Rafael. He also taught in Paris at the Sorbonne, Toronto and the MIT, where he teamed up with Noam Chomsky.

Santos wrote more than forty books, all told, in several languages. His works became a reference for those interested in understanding geography from a critical point of view (if not necessarily in a negative light), especially by applying concepts of the Frankfurt School. His main concerns were connected on the one hand to city structure, urban networks and urbanisation processes in developing nations; and on the other hand, to the epistemology of geography (which means, its object and relationship to other sciences, such as economics and ethnography). His views about space helped geography transition from a concept of space as a stage for human action, to a constraint on human action.

His works include "Por uma Geografia Nova" (For a New Geography) (1978) and "A natureza do espaço" (The Nature of Space) (1996). His work "O espaço dividido" (The Shared Space), in which Santos develops a theory of urban development in developing countries, is considered a geography classic.

In 1994, Santos was awarded the Vautrin Lud Prize, the highest prize in geography. The Prize is modelled after the Nobel Prize and colloquially called the Nobel Prize for geography. To date, Santos remains the only Latin-American scholar to ever win it.

Santos died in São Paulo, on June 24, 2001, at age 75, as a result of prostate cancer diagnosed about seven years earlier.

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