Chapter 5: Connecting political ecology and French geography: on tropicality and radical thought
With regard to the development of a broadly understood political ecology, francophone and Anglo-American intellectual traditions have had uneven, asymmetrical and under-documented influences. Exploring these influences, this chapter rejects the temptation of reducing French political ecology to a mere intellectual script for France’s green movement, unconnected to francophone academia. With a specific focus on French geography, it is fair to say that this discipline did not provide in France the kind of disciplinary anchor that it afforded Anglo-American counterparts. And in stark contrast with the influential work of the anthropologists Meillassoux and Terray, French geographers for a long time in the twentieth century lacked intellectual traction outside the francophone world, leading in the late 1970s to mutual divergence and indifference between Anglo-American radical geography and its French Marxist equivalent. Nonetheless, French geography has made internationally significant if often overlooked scholarly contributions and debates. The chapter notably highlights this point in relation to the rich body of work of Pierre Gourou. As a pivotal figure in the elaboration of French tropical geography, he left an important and diverse intellectual legacy, ranging from the development-oriented terroir school to more critical tiers-mondistes scholars. As compared with the more radical stance of René Dumont (an agronomist and pioneering green politician), the influence of Gourou’s thought is somewhat paradoxical in that it promoted the virtues of fieldwork-based insights (like Anglo-American political ecology), even as it downplayed the role of political analysis in such research (unlike Anglo-American political ecology). Yet much has changed in France since the start of the twenty-first century, with recent work more inclined than before to seek connections, commonalities and possible synergies between French and Anglo-American political ecology.
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