New Amazonian Geographies: Emerging Identities and Landscapes

Article excerpt

Common stereotypes of a homogeneous Amazonia belie the complexity and diversity of peoples and landscapes across the region. Although often invisible to the outside world, diverse peoples-indigenous, traditional, migrant, urban dwellers and others--actively construct their identities and shape cultural and political landscapes in diverse ways throughout the region. This volume combines political ecology, with its emphasis on identity, politics, and social movements, with insights from cultural geography's focus on landscapes, identities and livelihoods, to explore the changing nature of Amazonian development. These papers focus on indigenous identity and cosmology; changing livelihoods and identities; and transboundary landscapes. They highlight the diversity of proactive, place-based social and political actors who increasingly raise their voices to contest and engage with Amazon development policies. Based on their history, social values, and livelihood practices, such groups propose alternative ways of understanding and managing Amazonian landscapes.

Keywords: Amazonia; cultural geography; political ecology; landscape; identity

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"Gigantic," "green," "emerald," "wet," "humid," "important," "(bio)diverse," "lungs of the earth," "enormous," "in danger" and "full of endangered species." Amazonian researchers are accustomed to hearing people from many backgrounds ranging from young schoolchildren, to university students, to other citizens and educators--use words like these to describe Amazonia. Such lush, larger than life perceptions of Amazonia dominate the mental landscape of those not familiar with the region. Less often, or after a few minutes of conversation, the description sometimes turns to talk about the indigenous peoples who reside in the region and "live in harmony with nature." While these vivid images of Amazonia might help to fix the region in the imagination of the general public, the reality of Amazonia is both more complex and diverse.

Amazonia is a mysterious and powerful construct in our psyches, yet shares all-too-real (trans)national borders and diverse ecological and cultural landscapes. It is often presented as a seemingly homogeneous place: a lush tropical jungle teeming with wildlife and plants, as well as timeless Indians. Rarely are outsiders aware of the immense diversity of Amazonian flora and fauna, or of the fantastic stories of the varied peoples who inhabit the different corners of the region. As a result, Slater (2002, p. 203) argues that it is time for us to move "beyond Eden" and re-envision an Amazon that encompasses the diverse groups of people who live there, and the complexities of their interactions with one another and with the natural environments of their territories.

Far from a pristine jungle, Amazonia has since Conquest been linked to the world through global markets. After a long and varied history of migration, colonization, and development projects, Amazonia is peopled by many distinct and "other" cultural groups who are still invisible to the outside world despite their increasing integration into global markets and global politics. Millions of rubber tappers, neo-native groups, peasants, river dwellers, and urban residents continue to shape and re-shape the cultural landscape. They adapt their livelihood practices and political strategies in response to changing markets, and to shifting linkages with political and economic actors at local, regional, national, and international levels. This volume explores the diversity of changing identities of those inhabiting the region, and of the cultural and political landscapes they are constructing in different corners of this rapidly changing region today. It also traces how Amazonian groups draw on their place-based history, social values, and livelihood practices to challenge dominant development paradigms and propose alternatives more suited to their identities and aspirations. …