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Volume 63 / Social Sciences

GEOGRAPHY: WESTERN SOUTH AMERICA


DANIEL W. GADE, Professor Emeritus of Geography, The University of Vermont

SCHOLARLY PRODUCTION UNDER THE RUBRIC OF GEOGRAPHY on western South America covers an uncommonly wide range of phenomena and approaches. Many publications examined during this review period address problems, sometimes accompanied with ideas for their solution. Diverse environmental issues have yielded a substantial number of publications, some of which are annotated in this section. A fine monograph on indigenous people in Colombia understands them as environmental representations and ecological identities in their relationship to government authority (item #bi2006001455#).

All across the Andean world, indigenous communities have organized to be heard on matters affecting their land and resources. In that regard, Bury provides an interesting case of rural people in Cajamarca department (Peru) who have asserted demands in the face of recent gold mining installations (item #bi2006003865#). In Bolivia, an intriguing collection of papers reveals how indigenous claims to territory have evolved well beyond the 1953 agrarian reforms (item #bi2006001475#).

As cities in all five countries continue to absorb migrants from the countryside, the perils of urbanization have been the focus of a good deal of geographical research attention. Swyngedouw's book examines how entrepreneurial control of a sizeable share of the domestic water supply in Guayaquil contributes to the postmodernist concern with exposing power structures (item #bi2006003862#). City and regional planning concerns have generated more recent publications in Colombia than elsewhere in the region. Two studies on Bogotá provide special insights into an increasingly enlightened city: one examines the transformation over time of housing in spontaneous settlements (item #bi2004002768#); the other looks at plans to accommodate future population growth (item #bi2006001440#). As cities gain, the remote countryside loses; rural depopulation is an important theme that is, so far, scantily researched.

Studies in physical geography now form a small minority of geographical work in this region, but Richter's piece on understanding climate by studying vegetation demonstrates the insights available from solid fieldwork (item #bi2006003861#). Cultural-historical geography, a subfield connected to environmental history and cultural ecology, is represented in several excellent publications. Schreiber and Lancho Rojas inventory the puquios, an ingenious indigenous irrigation technique, on the south coast of Peru (item #bi2006001433#). Another standout is the clutch of papers on agricultural terraces as a landscape feature of preconquest origin (item #bi2006001466#). One of the last publications of the late John Murra, whose verticality notion promoted a cultural ecological approach to the Andean past, remains for Andeanists to cogitate on in the years ahead (item #bi2006001478#).

Patterns of geographical investigation demonstrate how Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia have continued to receive a strong infusion of research energy from outside scholars, whereas Colombia and Venezuela have had many fewer such contributions. In either case, there is so much still to be learned about the physical, cultural, historical, and economic geography of each of these five countries that the relatively small numbers of practitioners can hardly make a dent in the knowledge frontier of one of the most environmentally diverse parts of the world. Endless research possibilities explain why geography as a discipline often seems so sprawling compared to economics or even anthropology. Thanks largely to the Internet, an increasingly globalized community of geographers and cognate scholars has ever more opportunities for bibliographic retrieval, the exchange of ideas, and cooperative research. One case in point that is worth exploring is a new open-access electronic journal, GeoTrópico (http://www.geotropico.org/) edited by Hector F. Rucinque from his base in Colombia.


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