- French-Brazilian Geography: the Influence of French Geography in Brazil by José Borzacchiello da Silva
This is the English translation of a very important book on Brazilian geography, originally published in Brazil in 2012. Borzacchiello's work is the first attempt to trace a general historiographic appraisal of the exchanges between French and Brazilian geographers, who traditionally maintained a privileged relation. This translated edition—as part of a new book series, Springer Briefs in Latin American Studies—can be considered part of ongoing efforts to bring the products of Brazilian and South American scholars to the English-speaking publics (L. Melgaço and C. Prouse, Milton Santos: Pioneer in Geography, 2017), and to address transcultural and international circulations of geographical knowledge (H. Jöns, P. Meusburger and M. Heffernan, Mobilities of Knowledge, 2017).
The foreword by Hervé Théry, the great specialist of Brazilian matters in French geography today, highlights the depth of this "journey of love" (p. v) between French and Brazilian geographies, one which was institutionally inaugurated in 1934 with the appointment of French teachers such as Pierre Deffontaines (1894-1978) and later Pierre Monbeig (1907-1987). These scholars were the first Chairs of Geography at the University of São Paulo (USP) from 1934, and at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro from 1935, and they contributed to the foundation of the Association of Brazilian Geographers. Close relations between French and Brazilian geographers existed already before the university institutionalization of the discipline, through the political and scholarly networks of Elisée Reclus (1830-1905), Emile Levasseur (1928-1911), and Pierre Denis (1883-1951), all authors of monographs on the South American country and acquainted with local colleagues. [End Page 258]
In this book, Borzacchiello addresses the chronological range 1934-1993, from the establishment of the first Chair of Geography in Brazil held by Deffontaines, to the author's own sojourn in Paris to perform this research. In that year, Borzacchiello realized interviews with four French geographers involved in cooperation with Brazil, Michel Rochefort, Yves Lacoste, Jacques Lévy, and Paul Claval, which constitute the core of the book. The chapters are organized following a periodization which considers the 1956 IGU Congress in Rio de Janeiro and the 1978 Congress of the Association of Brazilian Geographers in Fortaleza as the two big watersheds for investigating French-Brazilian geography between 1934 and 1993. In chapters 1-3, the author addresses the construction of "The Hegemony of French Geography in Brazil" until 1956; in chapter 4, including the interviews with Rochefort and Lacoste, he discusses its consolidation until 1978; in chapter 5, including the interviews with Claval and Lévy, Borzacchiello deals with the raising of "new figures" after the critical turn taken by Brazilian geography in the Fortaleza congress, with the introduction of radical tendencies and new cultural approaches. In chapters 6 and 7, the author tries a first assessment of the work of Brazilian students and scholars in France, providing an overview of the PhD dissertations discussed in France on Brazil, and by Brazilians in France.
The main argument of the book is that the overwhelming influence of French geography in Brazil revealed an initial "asymmetry" (p. vi) in the scholarly relations between the two countries, hindering the formation of a recognizable "Brazilian School" of geography, despite the potential and originality of Brazilian scholarship. The colonialist attitude of French classical geography is pointed out by the author, for instance where he observes that "Third World geography is a mixture of colonial geography with tropical geography" (p. 20), then rejected by Southern scholars in the period of decolonization. Explicitly questioned on this points, the French geographers interviewed generally denied that French scholars in mission in Brazil adopted the same approach as their colleagues working in French colonies in West Africa or Southeast Asia. Yet, the sense of...