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Volume 51 / Social Sciences

GEOGRAPHY: BRAZIL


MARIO HIRAOKA, Professor of Geography, Millersville University

THE RAPID SOCIOECONOMIC AND ECOLOGICAL CHANGES occurring in Brazil, such as continued growth of population, migrations towards urban areas, agricultural modernization, and massive destruction of the rain forest offer challenging opportunities for varied interpretations. Current selections annotated below constitute a sampling of geographical interests and trends in the country and indicate what areas, issues, and perspectives require further attention. Among the regions, Amazonia and the Northeast continue to attract the interest of researchers, at the expense of other areas of the country where equally significant social and economic changes are taking place. Trends in publishing also suggest that the following issues continue to command the attention of Brazilian geographers: the assessment of government development projects over the past three decades; the impact of commercial and frontier farming on the rural masses; and the evolution of urban patterns. As noted in HLAS 49 (p. 455-457), there is a continuing tendency among geographers to emphasize applied geography and neglect theoretical/philosophical constructs.

Amazonia continues to fascinate both laymen and specialists. Much of the writing noted below is dominated by concerns about the ecological impacts of large-scale inroads into the rain forests. In addition to popular accounts and surveys (items bi 88001844, bi 88001838, and bi 88001827), there are a number of increasingly detailed analyses of the subject. For example, cost-benefit analyses of cattle ranching operations (items bi 88001263, bi 88002595, and bi 89000381) and evaluations of plantation agriculture and colonization activities (items bi 91003854, bi 91003860, bi 91003869, bi 91003925, and bi 91004080) attest to the difficulties implicit in developing the region with current management techniques. One of the main causes of migration toward urban areas is the inability of primary activities to satisfy the demands of rural populations. These emerging urban patterns are described by Mougeot and Aragon (item bi 91003856), Loureiro (item bi 88001829), Mitschein et al. (item bi 91003920) and Volbeda (item bi 88001270).

The Grande Carajás Program, an integrated mineral, industrial, and agricultural project created in 1980, encompassing an approximately 900,000 km2 area in Eastern Amazonia, has become a leading subject of ecological study. Like other major projects in the region, Carajás began its development with limited ecological knowledge and socioeconomic planning. The need for exhaustive studies and planning prior to the gradual implementation of such projects is emphasized by the following preliminary studies of the topic: Almeida Jr. (item bi 88001825), Bennett (item bi 91003775), Gistelinck (item bi 91003865), and Hall (item bi 91003868).

As a reaction to what in the past have been largely exploitative methods of development, several researchers now propose that future development projects utilize resources based on traditional and regional knowledge. For example, Amazonia's indigenous inhabitants base their livelihood on a combination of swidden agriculture and extraction of forest products, management practices that appear to be ecologically and economically viable. Many works noted below are devoted to the study of these practices (items bi 91001519, bi 91001517, bi 91003771 and bi 91004078) as is the new monographic series, "Advances in Economic Botany," published by the New York Botanical Garden and which includes many interdisciplinary findings about alternate floral management systems (item bi 91003928).

Insofar as studies of the Northeast are concerned, leading topics of research continue to be climatic fluctuations, poverty and ensuing social problems, as well as government projects designed to ameliorate them. Three decades have elapsed since the establishment of the Superintendency of the Development of the Northeast (SUDENE), a regional development agency. A number of development programs were established in its wake, including SUVALE, POLONORDESTE, PROALCOOL, and the Projeto Sertanejo. Protracted and continued investments of such projects notwithstanding, benefits accrued by the majority of the region's inhabitants were marginal (item bi 91003866). And although such government policies and projects have modernized farming, improved infrastructures, and served to increase the region's manufacturing capacity, their principal effect has been to drive rural inhabitants to the cities and marginalize the population (item bi 88002106). Case studies such as Borello's (item bi 88001264) illustrate the progressive growth of the informal secondary sector, while Andrade's (item bi 88001828) and Wilkinson's (item bi 91003931) examine the pauperization of the rural masses. Government assessments of its own programs also lead to similar conclusions (items bi 88001822 and bi 88001815). Three regional monographs by Silva (item bi 88001842), Oliveira (item bi 88001821), and Mello (item bi 88001810) portray the major problems within a regional context. Rural metamorphoses visible in the Northeast appear to be part of the growing pains of an increasingly market-oriented and modernizing agriculture.

Developments similar to those of the Northeast are observed in other parts of the country. Regional agricultural essays published in the special issue of Revista Brasileira de Geografia (49:1, 1987, items bi 88001290, bi 88002107, bi 88002110, bi 88001289 and bi 88002106), and articles by Hess and Aguiar (item bi 89000011), Mesquita and Silva (items bi 89000568, bi 89000333 and bi 88001289), and Mueller (item bi 89000332) provide summaries of changes brought about by these developments. Trends in the modernization of the farming sector are described by Delgado (item bi 91003782), Martine and Garcia (item bi 91003918), and Brandao (item bi 91003903), while the impact of different types of farming are examined in monographs by Moura (item bi 91003922) and Loureiro (items bi 88001829 and bi 91003917).

The cities of Brazil, as in most of the Third World, are rapidly expanding in number, size, area, and structure. These changes are being scrutinized from a variety of viewpoints. For example, the relation between investment patterns and spatial concentration of urban growth is discussed by Davidovich (items bi 89000008 and bi 88001039) while Faissol (item bi 88001037) offers suggestions on urban and regional development policies that result from historical processes. As Brazil's metropolitan regions evolve and begin to resemble patterns in developed countries, the long-held view of the suburbs as the city of the poor is being challenged (e.g., items bi 91004066 and bi 88001036). Other topics annotated below include "passive infanticide" in urban shanties, female labor, spatial structure of urban crimes, functional relationships between urban-rural regions, and frontier urbanization.

Although there are few publications on historical geography included in this biennium, three volumes are of special interest and deserve mention. First is a work that contributes much towards an understanding of early colonial life and society in the plantation zone of the coastal Northeast, particularly in Paraíba and Pernambuco, by providing accounts of a contemporary sugarcane planter of the region (item bi 88001818). Writings by Tschudi (item bi 88001820) and Sampaio (item bi 91003929) offer ethnographic and environmental information for mid-19th century São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro provinces, and of late colonial Amazonia, respectively. Another field inadequately represented is biophysical geography. In spite of major changes taking place in the rural and urban environments, the number of publications on the country's biogeography is woefully low. A few geomorphological and climatological studies included below attest to the limited scale of such studies and the lack of available data, which in turn may explain the limited funding allocated for such research. This may also account for the small number of students trained in biogeography. There seems to be a declining interest in this important subfield of geography, at a time in which the urgency for environmental planning is becoming increasingly apparent in Brazil. Another fundamental problem noticed in the literature, especially in works related to Amazonia, is the increasing number of Anglocentric interpretations of issues pertaining to this area (e.g., item bi 91003853). Information gathered, methods of interpretation, viewpoints, and presentation of results are dominated by Anglo-American researchers who are also influencing policy-making for this Brazilian region.


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