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  • Real Estate and the Production of Urban Space:A Pervasive Debt of Latin American(ist) Geography
  • Nicolás Vergara-Arribas


Urban research has had a long, though not especially permanent, presence within Latin American(ist) geography in general, and in the almost half a century of work of the Conference of Latin American Geography (CLAG), specifically. In fact, the first issue of CLAG's Publication Series (the predecessor of the Journal of Latin American Geography, JLAG) featured two articles explicitly addressing urban subjects (Bramhall, 1971; Pyle, 1971). In that same issue, however, John Augelli (1971) shared James Parsons's (1964) statement on the lack of attention to contemporary economic development topics in Latin American(ist) geography, including urban problems. In this sense, according to Augelli (1971), there was a tendency in Latin American(ist) geography to avoid the most relevant or politically pressing contemporary issues of the region, such as what was then called the urban explosion and its associated problems. This omission is notoriously linked to the history of Latin American(ist) geography as a discipline in the United States, whose development took place in close relationship with the Cold War wave of area studies (Sidaway, Ho, Rigg, & Woon, 2016; Finn & Hanson, 2017), significantly facilitated by the substantial sponsorship of the U.S. government (Augelli, 1971). This knowledge configuration has had a lasting impact in Latin American(ist) geography; expressed in its emphasis (inherited from World War II) on direct military use, as well as in otherness, exoticism, and backwardness (Sidaway et al., 2016; Finn & Hanson, 2017).

Both the social science of geography and the world have changed significantly since the early days of CLAG, five decades ago. Latin American(ist) geography has changed too, widening theoretically, methodologically, and thematically. Similarly, the presence of urban-related subjects has tended to increase in Latin American(ist) geography, as a review of the JLAG historical index suggests (though see Alvarado, 2020 [this issue]). However, there is still a pervasive deficit of research on real estate within the context of urban geography in Latin American(ist) geography. This has only started to be addressed more systematically within the past decade, as I will address in this paper.

Latin American(ist) geography has recently begun to much more directly address contemporary politically relevant issues, as shown in JLAG's explicit editorial turn toward critical geographical scholarship, [End Page 204] that took place in 2016 (Gaffney, Freeman, Seemann, Finn, & Carter, 2016), and subsequent editorial statements in the same journal (Finn, 2019a, 2019b). It is within this policy, I argue, that research on real estate agents, logic, mechanisms, and discourses in the production of the space of Latin American cities should be much more deeply addressed. This imperative has to do with the growing relevance of real estate in the production of physical and social space in Latin American cities. This is especially salient, since Latin America is the second most urbanized region in the world, following North America, and was home to six of the thirty-three current megacities (cities of more than 10 millions inhabitants) worldwide in 2018 (United Nations, 2018)—a far greater proportion than its 8.5 percent share of the world's population (United Nations, 2017).

This paper is structured in three parts. First, I outline the limited trajectory of real estate research within Latin American(ist) geography, and especially in JLAG, albeit with a growing relevance throughout the last decade. I then suggest possible reasons for this deficit. Finally, I reflect on the implications of this shortcoming and point to future research trends in real estate in Latin American(ist) geography that I consider especially promising and relevant.

trajectories of research on real estate and urban space in latin american(ist) geography

The trajectory of scholarship on real estate and urban space within Latin America cannot be separated from broader urban research about the region. Real estate did not appear as a subject of research in its own right in the first decades of CLAG, but was assumed (and subsumed) within urban geography more broadly. In this way, during the 1970s and 1980s, for instance, and taking CLAG publications as a reference, there appears research on urban development...