- Emerging Geographies:Academic Communities, Research Agendas, and International Conferences in Ecuador and Bolivia
Geographical knowledge relies on area or regional studies and the production of disciplinary knowledge (Jazeel, 2015). Latin Americanist geographers around the world are mainly concerned with the first form of knowledge; however, given the politics of area studies (Powell et al., 2016), we acknowledge that the context and location of Latin Americanists affects the shape of knowledge produced about Latin America.
Understanding the foregoing, this paper has two main aims. First, we approach the trajectories of geography (e.g. the evolution of their academic communities and disciplinary contributions) in two countries, Ecuador and Bolivia, over the past two decades. We emphasize these countries because most geographical studies published about and generalized for Latin America have focused on Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and somewhat more recently Colombia. Second, we review the linkages of these emerging geographies with two regional events and networks: the Encuentro de Geógrafos de América Latina (EGAL) and the Conference of Latin American Geography (CLAG). We base our analysis on a literature review, journal bibliometrics, two discussion sessions conducted with EGAL participants in 2019, and expert interviews.
In the first section, below, we present how geographical academic communities emerged in the two countries. We then turn our attention to how national research agendas have been molded by the influence of international research agendas and local demands. The following two sections review the connections of these emerging geographical communities with the above-mentioned international conferences and the Journal of Latin American Geography (JLAG). We conclude by discussing the constraints that challenge knowledge production in the context of North-South dialogues between Latin American and Latin Americanist geographers.
geographical academic communities in ecuador and bolivia
In Ecuador and Bolivia, geography has long [End Page 61] been more of an applied science than an epistemic approach to concerns of space, place, or territories. Hence, eclecticism and diversity characterize most interactions among entities and groups doing geography and producing disciplinary knowledge. In both countries, geographic thought incorporates elements of French, American/English, and Brazilian paradigms. However, in contrast to Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, and Colombia, where geography has an older and stronger background both as a discipline and a career, in Bolivia and Ecuador it has remained negligible in national academic and political debates and is regarded as a somewhat marginal profession.
As in several other countries in Latin America, geography in Ecuador and Bolivia has been commonly associated with the production of national and official cartographic material. For instance, through the mid-1990s, the Military Geographic Institute (IGM) of Ecuador was the official geographic and cartographic agency, and also employed the few professional geographers who were educated as engineers in the University of the Armed Forces (ESPE). However, IGM has hosted international organizations such as the Pan-American Institute of Geography and History (PAIGH) and the Pan-American Center for Geographical Studies and Research (CEPEIGE). The interaction of these centers with international research and development agencies, such as the French Research Institute for Development (ORSTOM/IRD), resulted in a series of thematic maps and publications such as Geografía Básica del Ecuador (Gómez, 2018).
In the mid-1990s, two events largely influenced the expansion of geographical production. First, an undergraduate degree in human geography was created at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE); and second, technology-based innovation was introduced via geographic information systems (GIS), which reinforced the curricula of the existing geographical engineering programs in Bolivia and Ecuador. Both the professionalization of geographers and the popularization of digital spatial data enabled a more open and critical approach to mapmaking than in the past, achieving a certain independence from state-produced analog cartography. Even so, there is still no graduate degree program in geography in any university in Ecuador or Bolivia.
By the turn of the twenty-first century, geography as a discipline and as a profession had become more popular in Ecuadorian higher education. Both ESPE and PUCE strengthened and updated their bachelor's degrees on geodesy, geographical science, spatial planning, and environmental science. At the same time, universities in Cuenca, Guayaquil...