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Latin America has undergone extraordinary developments in the past decade. Although the region makes the news in times of trouble, much has happened that is positive, and the region remains an area of environmental and cultural superlatives. It has the world's longest and most diverse mountain range, the world's highest active volcanoes, the world's largest river system, the world's driest desert, the world's largest surviving broadleaf forest, and is the world's greatest storehouse of species. It offers simultaneously the world's largest area of potential agricultural land and a vast endowment of habitat for conservation of biodiversity.
Latin America provides a home for over half a billion people, and is likely to surpass three quarters of a billion within a few decades. It contains a mix of peoples from Asia, Africa, and Europe. It was a site of ancient civilizations and empires, and witnessed the development of many of the basic crops of our modern diet, including corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, tomatoes, and peanuts. It has the largest number of surviving Native American groups in the world, and is the scene of an extraordinary revival of indigenous culture and claims for land. It is now becoming the largest single region of people speaking European languages and practicing European religions. It has the world's largest concentration of people speaking Romance languages, derived from Latin (hence, Latin America). But it also has the largest concentration of Africans outside Africa, and of Japanese outside Japan. The region is not just rich in tradition but is also the scene of exciting developments in modern and postmodern culture.
The history of colonization and independence has left the region with numerous political and economic challenges, which have resulted in a diversity of solutions. Latin America has two of the three largest cities in the world. It is in many respects connected to the larger world economically, politically, and through migration flows. Yet Latin America remains relatively poor in economic terms, with average incomes only 5 to 25 percent that of the USA. Life expectancy, infant mortality, and rates of education and access to information are also usually worse than in the USA. Latin America is marked by great differences between poor and rich, between powerful and weak, and has a history of conflict and instability. Latin American countries have developed numerous political, economic, and cultural experiments to cope with these challenges of development. These include experiments with protected markets, government alliances with multinational corporations, and revolutionary regimes. More recently these countries have pursued integration in local and even hemispheric free trade zones while concerning themselves with sustainability.
This volume outlines some of the challenges facing Latin America in the twenty-first century and discusses exciting research crucial to their understanding and useful to their solutions. The book focuses on ideas and contributions by geographers, including related work by authors in other disciplines. However, readers of many backgrounds will find the essays interesting, informative, and useful. Articles include examinations of Latin American agricultural and transportation systems, gender, geographies of development, land change science, conservation, and ethnicity; the volume concludes with a memorial essay on a significant Latin Americanist geographer. Together, the essays provide a contemporary view of the state of the art of Latin Americanist geography.
Daniel Gade contributes an overview of Latin Americanist geography from a North American perspective. Gade represents the persistence of the cultural and historical perspective in Latin Americanist research, but casts a wide net in this thoughtful essay, the product of a life's work as a researcher in the subject. He categorizes research as (1) explicating diversity, (2) a stage for bigger ideas, (3) chronicling current events, a march of topicality, (4) involving activist participation, and (5) expressing affinity with Latin American cultures as "lo simpático." Both experienced hands and those new to the subject will find Gade's overview stimulating, controversial, and thought provoking.
The volume continues with looks at two very specific challenges in Latin America: food supply and transportation. William Doolittle and his coauthors review a diverse array of studies pertaining to food production, pointing out that much existing research has focused on small-scale agricultural activities, especially in historic or pre-Columbian contexts. Technologies once derided as backward have proven to be appropriate for the conditions and goals of local people. The region is rich in irrigation systems, terracing, and unique and carefully crafted approaches to making a living in a sustainable fashion. Much is valuable and worthy of study and conservation in these smallholder cultural landscapes.
At the same time, both smallholders and large-scale commercial farmers have been developing new ways of growing food for local consumption or for export. There is a need for more detailed local study of modern as well as traditional farming in helping us understand how sustainable Latin America's food supply may be, and how flexible the options are in terms of dealing with the unpredictable challenges of a changing world.
David Keeling assesses transportation systems in Latin America, pointing out some of its major deficiencies. He makes the argument that the improvement of transportation will be crucial for the development of a more integrated economy. Keeling is an advocate of increased economic interaction, increased flows of goods and services, and of globalization, as providing opportunities for improving the daily life of Latin Americans. He argues for a greater attention to the nature, deficiencies, and prospects of improvement of transportation infrastructure. This essay is a fine starting point for debates about globalization and its consequences.
Kathleen Schroeder addresses various aspects of the issue of gender in Latin America and in Latin Americanist geography. She outlines a number of exciting areas of research. Gender is increasingly being mainstreamed in development studies. Women have become more involved in geography organizations and departments; Schroeder herself is a former Chair of the Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers (CLAG), the main organization of its kind in the United States since 1969. Schroeder points out the need for more women to become involved in Latin Americanist geography and challenges the discipline to help encourage this process.
Anthony Bebbington contributes an overview of the geographies of development in Latin America, including studies of organized development intervention, geographies of livelihoods, and discourses of develop ment. Bebbington points out the importance of the ongoing tension in geography between critics of development on the one hand and those who see the need for positive change on the other. He argues that geographers need to become more involved in the development process.
Jacqueline Vadjunec and her collaborators echo Bebbington's call to participation in the arena of policy. They examine the contributions of Latin Americanist geographers to understanding Global Environmental Change and Sustainability Research in the context of an emerging "Land-Change Science." This essay makes a passionate case for the utility of "big science" teams.
Karl Zimmerer and Eric Carter focus on the emerging "crossover" between protected areas and humanized landscapes and the development of conservation geographies. They especially urge attention to urban land scapes and urban environmental problems in a region where the majority of the population are urban dwellers.
Gregory Knapp and Peter Herlihy discuss the development of ethnic mapping in the region, and in particular participatory mapping. Since the indigenous "uprising" of June 1990 in Ecuador, the last decade witnessed an explosive growth of popular participation in the mapping process, as a means of constructing alliances and laying claim to resources.
Finally, the volume ends with an essay honoring the memory of Bernard Q. Nietschmann, a cultural and environmental geographer who was an early advocate of geographers' involvement in issues of sustainable development and self-determination of indigenous peoples.
Those reading this volume should be enlightened, provoked, and stimulated by the case examples of productive research, striving toward solutions, and questioning of existing approaches.