Agro-Cultural Frontiers and the Amazon: Contested Histories, New Alterities and Emerging Cultures

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Cardiff School of Planning and Geography


A group of five British, Brazilian and Colombian universities (Cardiff, KCL, Federal University of Mato Grosso, Federal University of Rondonia, in Brazil, and the National University of Colombia) intend to organise five workshops (two in the UK and three in South America) to involve international experts, national scholars and regional academic and non-academic stakeholders (such as farmer associations, local authorities, community and church organisations, cooperatives, NGOs, artists, etc.) to take part in networking activities, discuss existing knowledge and identify gaps in the state-of-the-art of agricultural frontiers in the Amazon.

The series of workshops and a coordinated engagement during two years will led to the consolidation of the Agro-Cultures Research Network, which will include additional academics in the core universities and in other regional centres of research, speakers and participants in the various workshops, and the academic, policy-making and non-academic communities. This proposed network will especially examine the socio-cultural trajectory of change in the Amazon with a focus on what we describe as 'agro-cultural' frontiers.

The proponents believe that Arts and Humanities can greatly contribute towards the solution of environment and development dilemmas in the Amazon region, particularly considering the aggressive advance of agricultural modernisation and the movement of people to new areas, which have resulted in complex cultural exchanges, the rapid erosion of old practices and the formation of new, hybrid identities. There is a clear responsibility of national governments and the international community to swiftly respond to the emerging challenges presented by impacts on traditions, customs and knowledges, mounting socio-economic inequalities and ecosystem degradation, and the lack of proper recognition of the agency, distinctiveness and subjectivities of subaltern groups of old and new residents (such as extractive communities, squatters, family farmers and indigenous tribes) in areas of agricultural frontier.

The Amazon occupies now an ambiguous place between the ancient and the modern worlds - not ancient enough yet not modern enough - which has resulted in the specific, lived socio-cultural dimensions of region being largely absent from many academic studies and policy-making. So far, the region has come to be defined especially through its natural and not its cultural history, and thus is represented primarily as a place of nature and not of culture. Despite a growing scholarly work among social scientists on socio-economic, agrarian and demographic aspects of the advance of the agricultural frontiers, less is known about how global influences and past legacies are incorporated and retransformed in the production of alterities and cultural expressions. The prevailing narrative of the agricultural frontiers in the Amazon is derived from a social imaginary dominated by the supposed heroism, entrepreneurialism and economic success of large-scale farmers, while interpersonal connections between different social groups, their subjectivities and cultural baggage, rising identities and household practices are still not adequately considered. Likewise, there is a significant anthropological literature on indigenous tribes, their oral histories and cultures, but little is known about their participation and reaction to the advance of agricultural frontiers.

Therefore, through a series of events and debates, the new network will, for the first time, jointly address the intensive cultural exchanges and historical transformation of the agricultural frontiers in the Amazon. The initiative will create an innovative space for discussion and North-South interaction between academics and non-academics focused on local knowledge, habits, language and subjectivities in the context of a rapidly changing cultural and spatial reality under the influence of (unsustainable) modernisation.

Planned Impact

1. The Agro-Cultural Research Network will organise events and foster interaction that will influence diverse practices and academic and non-academic approaches. Scholars, students and non-academic stakeholders will engage with each other's research and experience during the workshops, which will be captured via audio-visual recording equipment and published in various forms (including academic journals and other forms of communication). Non-academics will be invited also to take part as speakers in the evens and will be involved from the start in the preparation of each workshop.

2. The workshops will benefit from the direct involvement of all participants in the identification of research gaps and future research demands. The non-academic actors will be able to have a role in steering the events and also co-producing the research agenda for the future. By working collaboratively, the outputs will reflect a diversity of voices and will provide evidence and tools that can be directly applied to promote innovations in terms, for example, of social inclusion and respect for cultural diversity. Likewise, future research collaborations that might emerge from the network are like to have a significant social, economic and cultural impact beyond the lifetime of the award.

3. The five workshops will be freely open to the public (no registration fees) and will attract a diversified audience. These events will stimulate encounters and engagements that could modify practices of all orders, such as academic, professional, practical and even personal. For example:

- Dialogues on the complexity of the agricultural frontiers, including issues of identity, culture, subjectivities, anxieties, imaginaries and aspirations, are likely to reconfigure of the perception of these locations, for instance, via projects connected to the ongoing work of key speaker Eduardo Castro has a distinguished work on the human encounters and anthropological changes in the Amazon, including consideration of humanity and divinity in the Amazonian society. Similarly, Boaventura Santos, who has engaged with farmers communities and indigenous tribes in South America and explored the concept of a new 'epistemology of the South'.

- Practitioners of writing, ethnography, arts, drama and filming could benefit from the contributions of key speakers such as Susanna Hecht, Arthuro Escobar, Sheila Aikman and Eduardo Gudynas.

- The first event, in Cardiff, is likely to impact on the new Centre for Research on Food Politics, Sustainability and Justice.

- The Cuiaba event, on identity and languages, will inform important research on indigenous tribes and peasant communities being affected by the advance of soybean plantations in the north of Mato Grosso.

- The third event is going to provide an invaluable opportunity for transboundary collaboration between Colombia and Brazil, which is normally difficult to happen. Additional inputs will be provided by Peruvian participants.

- The fourth event, in Porto Velho, is going to provide concrete elements for the analysis of food production trends and alternative practices, particularly with the collaboration of Bolivian participants.

- Finally, the last event, in London, will represent a unique opportunity to engage academics with the development community, international agencies and NGOs, public authorities and the artistic community.

4. The network will work to develop its activities, to enhance its agenda-setting statues and to make contributions and interventions into ongoing debates, issues and practices. The network will become a nexus from which to develop future collaborations and apply for further national and international funding to expand research activities. Funding bodies will include the AHRC, ESRC, Newton Fund and Global Challenges Research Fund, as well as Leverhulme and the British Academy, and other European and international bodies (as in the case of CNPq and FAPESP in Brazil).


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Edited By Vitale Joanoni Neto And Antonio A R Ioris (2018) special issue on Territories and Frontiers in Territorios & Fronteiras

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Ioris A (2018) Amazon's dead ends: Frontier-making the centre in Political Geography

Description The activities of the Agrocultures Network, between 2018 and 2020, have further reinforced the importance of the discussion on the cultural and socio-economic dimensions of agricultural frontiers in the Amazon. Our events and public debates have attracted growing attention from scholars, governments and civil society. Through publications and the dedicated website, it has been possible to maintain multi-disciplinary engagement and communicate with different sectors. The research network has demonstrated that agricultural frontiers in the Amazon are biophysical and human spaces increasingly subjected to cumulative transformations due to rapid and intense migrations of peoples and the opening of new economic opportunities taking place in contexts where authority and governance are constantly disputed and renegotiated. This was the analytical frame used to critically examine the manifold locales and landscapes undergoing changes due to the continuous encroachment of new socio-economic processes dialectically connected to wider trends and broader socio-economic, political, societal, and cultural dynamics unfolding in various ranges and multiple scales throughout the Amazon. Central to our analyses was the always complex interfacing between relatively consolidated areas and so-called frontiers. This involves multiple mechanisms of innovation occurring amidst continuation of old patterns of occupation of territory, socio-economic structures, and political rationalities, constantly at work and consistently manifested along multidimensional and contradictory geographical dynamics. What is more, spatial frontiers are constantly redefined within processes of production, extraction and politico-ideological containment, not only because of favourable economic opportunities but mainly due to the need to stabilize and reinvigorate core economic and political trends. Especially relevant, this interconnected process of frontier-making has not been interrupted by market-based globalizing trends, since the materialization of new frontiers continues to be predicated on rising tensions in central economic areas and their unstoppable demand for goods and services. In effect, at the frontiers, capitalism can reassert its hegemony with much lower costs and fewer restrictions, since order, authority and convention are suspended, time and space are reconfigured, and excesses are committed. The inexorable interdependency between centres and frontiers is evidently a process with major ideological and political significance. Whereas, in purely conceptual terms, the evolution of the frontier could take many directions and lead to multiple social arrangements, what is witnessed in practice is a great deal of constraint due to the continued hegemonic presence of global capitalist relations along the historical lines of a self-fulfilling prophecy consistently defined by the winners. The Amazonian experience is particularly paradigmatic for this line of reflection as it is increasingly clear that the region has become one the most disputed frontier tied to the encroachment of Western type of modernity over global territories in the last few decades. This is a phenomenon marked by structural socio-spatial asymmetries as the exploitation of resources in the Amazon, which are transformed and consumed elsewhere, produces a constant loss of value as gains are accumulated outside the region itself. Ironically, this process is regularly carried out under the guise and compelling symbolism of notions such as abundance, anticipated enrichment and a bright future for all involved.
Exploitation Route The website has facilitated the communication of discussions and debates; there are concrete academic outcomes (two edited books and two journal special issues with 17 articles in total); two non-academic reports were written (in Portuguese and English) to foster further discussion and raise awareness. A third book is in the final stages of publication in the first half of 2021.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Creative Economy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description The international network connected academics and scientists from different countries and foster a close collaboration, for instance in relation to food security and environmental regulation in different areas of the Amazon Region. It has also informed public authorities about ongoing academic work and, at the same time, helped the scientists to better understand old and emerging socio-ecological challenges. The collaboration has brought together academics, non-academics and public authorities to reflect on the current socio-ecological tendencies of the Amazon and discuss the causes of the main problems. Publications have been prepared to be accessible to wider civil society and not only to scientists.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Creative Economy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Challenges and Risks Faced by Indigenous Peoples in Today's Brazil: Unpacking Vulnerability and Multiple Reactions
Amount £126,433 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/T008644/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2020 
End 02/2021
Description Agrocultures Frontiers and Development Contraditions in the Amazon REgion 
Organisation Federal University of Mato Grosso
Country Brazil 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The project allowed the main partners to work together and identify a number of common areas of interest. That was translated, for example, into joint publications (mentioned elsewhere) and follow-up projects (as the new AHRC project AH/T008644/1 with the title "Challenges and Risks Faced by Indigenous Peoples in Today's Brazil: Unpacking Vulnerability and Multiple Reactions").
Collaborator Contribution Partners, such as colleagues at the universities UFMT, UEA, UNESP, UFAM, King's College, Oxford, Colombia National University, took an active role in the series of workshops (contributing with talks, moderation of activities, organisation and management of the events, etc), in the advertisement and dissemination of results, and production of publications.
Impact Six publications (so far) New grant applications Academic visits of students and academics
Start Year 2018
Description Fifth workshop in Oxford (UK) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The growing problems and threats associated with the Amazon Region were discussed at the 5th colloquium of the Agrocultures Network "Amazon: Rising Violence and Disturbing Trends", which took place at Oxford University between 30 January and 02 February 2020. It was attended by more than 200 participants, including a large number of students, NGO activists, indigenous and peasant leaders, journalists and artists. The aim of the event was to reflect on the mounting impacts and to exchange experiences that will inform the search for alternatives to conventional development. The colloquium was held in a collaborative, open and friendly atmosphere and provided a rich opportunity for indigenous leaders, peasant and extractive community representatives, environmentalists, politicians, artists and academics to make connections and rethink together the legacies, practices, demands and prospects for the different groups and sectors in the Amazon. The activities started with a mini-movie festival with emblematic films that stimulate the critical debate. In the second day, in the prestigious Rhodes House, there was a series of talks and roundtables with academic and non-academic speakers. The last two days were dedicated to further presentations, debates, cultural events and celebrations. The event was a joint effort between Agrocultures, Amazonia Latitude, Survival International, the Oxford Department of International Development, Ultimate Picture Palace and other partner organisations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description First workshop in Cardiff 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This was the first event of a series of five workshops. It took place in Cardiff on 30 and 31 May 2019. It was well attended by academics, students and the general public. Participants came from Wales and England; speakers were invited from the UK, Brazil, USA and the Netherlands. It was the opportunity to launch the new 'agro-cultures network', which has contributed as a gateway to novel explanations of historical, cultural, linguistic and religious dimensions of agricultural frontiers, which are spaces of socio-ecological transformation and where old traditions combine and clash with modernisation trends.
The speakers were:
Prof. João Pacheco de Oliveira (Museu Nacional/UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro)
Prof. Paul Little (independent researcher, formerly at University of Brasília)
Prof. Bernardo M. Fernandes (State University of São Paulo)
Prof. Laura Rival (Oxford University)
Prof. Paul Routledge (University of Leeds)
Dr Fábio de Castro (CEDLA, University of Amsterdam)
Dr Maria Fernanda Gebara (independent researcher, formerly at UFRRJ)
Dr Francesca Fois (Aberystwyth University)
Dr Christopher Schulz (University of St Andrews)
Prof. Rafael Ioris (University of Denver)
Prof. Aaron Schneider (Latin America Center, University of Denver)
Prof. Vitale Joanoni Neto (Federal University of Mato Grosso, Brazil)
Dr Antonio A R Ioris (Cardiff University)

All the talks and details of the event are publicly available from the website
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Fourth workshop in Porto Velho (Brazil) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A public formed by academics, graduate students, representatives of indigenous and peasant communities, artists and the general public attended the two-day event; it was a priviledged space for debate and discussion between academics and non-academics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Second workshop in Cuiaba (Brazil) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was the second event of the series and took place (following a specific invitation after a meeting to present the non-technical report to local policy-makers) in the Assembly of the State of Mato Grosso in Cuiaba. The whole event was transmitted live by the Assembly TV and through the Assembly website.
The even was focused on languages, cultural manifestations, the condition of peasants and indigenous groups; representatives of those sectors were invited to speak and engage with academics and policy-makers.
The speakers were:
Herve Thery (CNRS, Paris)
Sanderson Castro Soares de Oliveira (UFAM)
Daniel Belik (CELA/UFAC)
Grace Iara Souza (King's College)
Antônio Torres Montenegro (UFPE)
João Antônio Botelho Lucídio (UFMT)
Marcus Silva da Cruz (UFMT)
Edison Antonio de Souza (UNEMAT - Campus de Sinop)
Marla Weihs (UNEMAT - Campus Alta Floresta)
Regina Beatriz Guimarães Neto (UFPE)
João Carlos Barrozo (UFMT)
Samuel Frederico (Unesp)
Luiz Fernando Flaminio (ALMT)
David Salisbury (Richmond University, USA)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Third workshop in Leticia (Colombia) and Tabatinga (Brazil) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The third workshop had to be delayed to June 2019 due to the difficulty to organise a workshop during the Brazilian elections in 2018 and other logistical difficulties in Colombia. The event is now confirmed and its preparation is progressing well.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019