Can You Leave China Out When Studying Asia? Why Then Ignore Brazil When Poring Over Latin America?

    Cover of Towards Rethinking Brazil

    Cover of Towards Rethinking Brazil I am a geographer, and an assistant professor at a geography department with a traditionally strong regional focus. It also happens that I was born-and-raised in Brazil (See Marcus 2011c).  Therefore, it was only natural that I would care to share my own experiences and knowledge about Brazil with my students. 

    So eventually I offered to create and teach a university-level course about Brazil  – as most colleagues in my department teach a regional course or two.  In the past I had also conducted fieldwork research in Brazil, and have published a few academic articles on Brazil and Brazilian migration processes, so I thought that I could also use some examples from that project (Marcus 2009a, 2009b, 2010, 2011a, 2011b). 

    When I started teaching, “Rethinking Brazil,” I searched everywhere to see if I could find a regional textbook that I could use in the course.  I asked colleagues and searched and searched…but only came up with stuff that was either too specific, outdated, or else they were publications without maps or general regional information. 

    In this case, I had to create my own maps, graphs, tables to show my students, simply because I could not find anything recent.  It was then that I decided that I needed to publish a regional book about Brazil in a textbook format, to use as a supplement text in my course  – I also use two other books, one written by historian, Marshall Eakin, as an “authoritative” source, and the other book is Graciliano Ramos’ classic, Barren Lives. 

    Hence, the title of my newly published book carefully includes the word “Towards” before “Rethinking Brazil,” not only as a gesture of intellectual modesty, but also accuracy.  One of the goals of this book is that the reader may eventually rethink Brazil by considering the physical, historical, and human dimensions and their inter-relationships which have impacted Brazilian landscapes. 

    It is certainly not limited in its academic scope or audience, and will be of interest and accessible to any reader who is interested in Brazil – especially since the collection of updated information in this format is not currently available anywhere else in the English language.

    Some of you might be asking: “What do you mean: ‘there are no recent regional texts available on Brazil?’ How can that be?”  Well, the answer to this question is long, and I will offer just a brief glimpse here (I have addressed this topic more extensively in an article I wrote, published by the Journal of Latin American Geography, 2011a). 

    It might suffice to say here that I found out that many Latin American Centers housed at English-speaking universities, and as a whole, English-speaking Latin Americanist geography (with some exceptions) are mostly concerned with indigenous populations in Mexico, Andean South America, or Central America (who mostly inhabit isolated rural sites).

    They are mostly involved with Spanish-speaking America, conveying a myopic portrayal of Latin America. If there is any focus at all on Brazil, it is almost always on the Amazon region.  In this case, representations of Latin America, all too often, do not include a deeper perspective on Brazilian complexities outside of the Brazilian Amazon (Marcus 2011a). 

    Given the size in territory and population size, the blatant omission of Brazil in Latin American geography, would be equivalent of leaving China out of Asian regional studies. 

    On top of all that, the public imaginary on Latin America has been driven by U.S.-based political terms such as “Hispanic/Latino,” which have also contributed to an exclusive and myopic focus on Spanish-speaking Latin America.

    This new book has a total of eight chapters (divided into three parts: thematic, regional, and case studies), recent photos, graphs, maps, data from the Brazilian Census 2010, and three case studies.  

    The chapter with data from the Brazilian Census 2010 might be of particular interest to readers who are want to know more about recent information on the rural/urban divide since 1960 and on the fastest growing cities in Brazil. 

    The chapter on historical geographies might also be of interest to those wanting to place a context to Brazilian historical processes and their impacts on Brazil today. 

    In addition, I also include a chapter on immigration to Brazil with data on selected immigrant groups and their destinations. The Preface and Introduction provide a context for the rationale of the book.

    The photographs I have taken over the years provide a setting to understand the cultural geographies of Brazil.  I have included four articles previously published in Brazzil Magazine, reprinted with the gracious permission of this magazine’s editor, Rodney Mello. 

    In addition, two of the three case studies are based on fieldwork research in Goiás and Minas Gerais, and deal with the inter-relationships between migration, religion, cultural norms, movement and politics, and, the other case study is about the complexities of conflict in Amazonia.  

    Former U.S. president, George W. Bush once famously commented to Condoleezza Rice in a German press interview in 2002: “Are there blacks in Brazil? Oh, I didn’t think there were any!” (Die Spiegel 2002 interview).

    And as many readers here perhaps already know, there were more Africans brought to Brazil during the transatlantic slave trade period than to any other country in the Americas (about 40% of the total, were taken to Brazil). 

    Among many other examples, we can easily see in this case, how geography (especially, human geography) plays an important key role in making informed decisions, ranging from business to policy decisions, and it is also a vital discipline to understanding the increasingly complex world we live in.

    Keeping in mind of course, that Brazil is currently the world’s eighth largest economy; it holds about 14% of the world’s fresh water, and about 80% of its electricity comes from hydropower; it is the world’s largest producer of iron ore, and the world’s leading exporter of beef, chicken, orange juice, sugar, coffee, and tobacco, and; has one of the world’s most extensive river systems as well as the world’s most sophisticated biofuel systems. 

    Popular imageries have tended to focus exclusively on Spanish-speaking Latin America, and are inundated with Spanish-speaking-based frameworks to understand Latin America  – as a monolithic region, and as a result, Brazil is habitually left out of Latin American discussions. 

    Moreover, one-third of all Latin Americans live in Brazil and speak Portuguese.  So it comes as a surprise that there is a huge gap in the recent regional literature about Brazil (with some exceptions, for example, the excellent research conducted on the Brazilian Amazon).  I hope that my book can play at least a modest role in filling that gap.

    References:

    Marcus, Alan P. 2011a   Rethinking Brazil’s Place within Latin Americanist Geography.  Journal of Latin American Geography 10(1): 129- 147.

    ___.2011b  Experiencing Ethnic Economies. Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies 9:1-24.

    ___.2011c. Transnational Rio de Janeiro: (Re)Visiting Geographical Experiences. In Growing Up Transnational: Identity and Kinship in a Global Era, 21-35, edited by May Friedman and Silvia Schultermandl. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

    ___.2010. Back to Goiás and Minas Gerais: Returnees, Geographical Imaginations and its Discontents.  Revista Tempo e Argumento 2(2): 121-134.

    ___.2009a.  Brazilian Immigration to the United States and the Geographical Imagination.  Geographical Review 99 (4): 481-498.

    ___.2009b.  (Re)Creating Places and Spaces in Two Countries: Brazilian Transnational Migration Processes.   Journal of Cultural Geography (26)2: 173-198.

    The book can be purchased through Wiley Publishers, (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Wiley Custom Select www.wiley.com) at this website link:
    http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470958103,descCd-description.html
    Or on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Rethinking-Brazil-Thematic-Regional-Approach/dp/0470958103/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1315943258&sr=8-4

    Alan P. Marcus, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Planning, 8000 York Road, Towson University, Towson, Maryland, U.S.A.

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