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Volume 51 / Social Sciences

GEOGRAPHY: WESTERN SOUTH AMERICA


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

THE LION'S SHARE OF GEOGRAPHICAL RESEARCH published on Western South America (excluding Chile) falls within the human dimension of the field. International trends point to an underrepresentation of physical geography for years to come. Among the five countries canvassed in this review, Peru has received the most attention from scholars (many of them foreign) and Bolivia the least. Increasingly, the turmoil of terrorism, counter-insurgency and drug-related violence has made field studies problematical in certain zones of Peru and Colombia.

Among the better studies using a regional framework are the influence of Loja (item bi 88001103), the organization of space in Manabí (item bi 91002863), and a synthesis of Bolívar state in Venezuela (item bi 89004916). In Highland Ecuador, Knapp assessed changing Quichua distributions (item bi 88001083), and Stadel solicited peasant responses on agricultural livelihoods (item bi 91002709). French scholars have done solid work on the Chancay Valley in Peru and its socioeconomic transformations (items bi 91002464 and bi 88001101). Though seriously flawed, a multi-volume work on the geography of Peru published in Spain (item bi 88001081) has been included in this section because of its scope. Resource inventories of drainage basins continue to appear as a prelude to regional development plans.

The cultural ecology of slash-and-burn agriculture in the humid lowlands is featured in an important monograph on Bora land use in Eastern Peru (item bi 89004935). Some other results of note on jungle farming have come out of field work in Eastern Colombia (items bi 91002698 and bi 91002749). Publications on natural hazards focused on the Nevado del Ruiz mudflow of 1985, yet the best disaster study of the biennium was on the 1987 earthquake in Northeastern Ecuador (item bi 89000633). Urbanization, still hyperactive in all Andean Countries, has gotten modest attention from geographers; the stronger pieces are those on Ciudad Guayana (item bi 89000603), La Paz, Bolivia (item bi 91002545), and a Lima shantytown (item bi 88001100). More ambitiously, Cunill (item bi 89004934) has produced a historical geography of Venezuela's 19th-century population and settlement.

Venezuela's territorial disputes with Colombia (item bi 89004963) and Guyana (item bi 88001085) are examined in publications written to bolster one or the other claim. In Peru, administrative decentralization away from Lima has been a hot topic in the 1980s (items bi 91002457, bi 89004962 and bi 91002538). Post-modernist solutions to the agricultural problems of the Central Andes have generated some interesting work on the rehabilitation of prehispanic terraces (items bi 91002435, bi 91002462 and bi 91002814). A recent compilation of native Andean crops outlines their potential as food sources for Western South America as well as for other parts of the world (item bi 91002730). Other works deal with highland deforestation (item bi 88001105) and reforestation of the same zone with native tree species (item bi 89004968).

Not much grand theorizing is apparent in the geographical studies of this region of Latin America. It would seem that not enough researchers are working on any set of ideas to allow for the synergism that results in the kinds of conceptual advances occurring in Andean ethnology or Latin American politics. For the time being, the recording of data untainted by a priori assumptions or deterministic hypotheses enhances the chance for more objective syntheses from the next generation of researchers.


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