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A historiography of Brazilian theoretical and quantitative geography: The “Rio Claro case”, from flourishing to fall

Une historiographie de la géographie théorique et quantitative brésilienne : Le « cas Rio Claro », de la floraison à l’automne
巴西理和定量地理:“克拉(Rio Claro)”,
Dante Flavio da Costa Reis Junior


En admettant le présupposé selon lequel, dans des contextes locaux, le progrès scientifique peut se manifester différemment, cet article a pour but de divulguer à la communauté européenne des géographes certains aspects impliqués dans la survenance de la soi-disant « géographie néo-positiviste » au Brésil. Nous présentons le cas emblématique de l’une des institutions qui – dans les années 1970, à ce pays sud-américain – a joué le rôle de « caisse de résonance » de la pensée pragmatique et scientifique concernant la Nouvelle Géographie : l’ancienne Faculté de Philosophie, Sciences et Lettres de Rio Claro (État de Sao Paulo). Nous mentionnons les personnages-clés associés à l’institution, lesquels, en plus de pratiquer un discours apologétique, ont produit des textes d’application et réflexion. En outre, nous décrivons la raison qui explique les reproches endurées par les géographes théoriques brésiliens. Les héritiers d’une géographie engagée dans la défense de la précision technique et linguistique se sont retrouvés agissant sous une situation d’exclusion – fait qui a immédiatement précipité une longue saison d’automne pour l’institution de Rio Claro.

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This work was supported by CNPq, National Council of Scientific and Technological Development, Brazil [grant number PDJ 152029/2007-9].


1Currently, historiographies on the discovery and application of theory-based explanations and statistical processing (in various regional contexts) usually label these new ventures « Theoretical » and/or « Quantitative » Geography. In this article, we employ the acronym « TQG », despite the fact that P. Gould (1979, p. 140) classified the second term as a “disastrous misnomer”. Undoubtedly, since the 1950s, the use of numerical treatment of data has given visibility to optimized reasoning. However, according to the author, it would be more appropriate to point out that “there was something better” : the search for a theory of what was general and permanent, in the midst of what appeared to be peculiar and disorganized.

2In these historiographies, authors were eyewitnesses to the renewal movement, either as students or University Professors. They reported not only on the local dynamics but also on the contacts established with researchers and Departments from other regions and countries. R. Morrill (1984) and P. Haggett (2008), for example, did this in their narratives about the Seattle and Cambridge experiences, respectively. There is also research based on the analysis of texts and the collection of testimonies, with studies on the manifestation of this movement outside its original Anglo-Saxon territory, for example. In this case, some authors highlighted the partnership between actors who were geographically close or distant (e.g., in a shared research lab, in a networked team, etc.). A partnership that presupposed periodic exchanges and encounters. Other authors emphasized political-economic factors that stimulated the arrival of new geographic practices at the « periphery ». S. Cuyala (2011) proposed an interesting model of dissemination in line with the first type of study (more precisely focusing on the French-speaking case). On the other hand, Lamego (2014) analyzed the discovery of foreign literature on mathematical modeling by Brazilian geographers from IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics). Her work, by emphasizing the articulation between this episode and the political history of Brazil, is in line with the second modality of study.

3We believe that these perspectives, although heterogeneous, represent interesting complementary contributions. The aforementioned analyses by Haggett, Cuyala, and Lamego, respectively, find certain corresponding elements in our case study. Particularly because of three ideas we present: personal testimony, exchange between researchers and political-economic conjuncture. Cuyala (2015, p. 10) has made excellent contributions to the Geography of Science with his studies on French Geography, developing, for example, interesting cartographic representations “of the places and spaces where the seeds of the French-speaking European theoretical and quantitative movement burgeoned. Although we do not have iconographic intentions in this article, we think that this kind of interpretative contribution has great explanatory potential.

4In Brazil there were two TQG styles practiced since the late 1960s, both very clearly expressed in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Rio Claro. During the 1960s, the federal capital of Brazil moved from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília, in the center of the country. Despite this change, IBGE’s headquarters continued operating in Rio, the former capital of Brazil. The purpose of the Institute was to support political decisions based on strategic information. And new mathematical resources equipped its technical board with additional skills. Through the use of new instruments, urban and regional dynamics became the object of simulations a very useful technique compared to government’s intervention projects. Indeed, the Institute sponsored scientific visits of several foreign professors for training Brazilian researchers. Brian Berry and John Cole, for instance, were in Brazil in the late 1960s invited by IBGE (Monteiro, 1980). Like other English-speaking visitors, they taught courses on mathematical and statistical techniques, instructing Brazilian researchers to apply quantitative procedures to different studies: urban hierarchy; metropolitan networks; population projections; and goods flow analysis.

5In turn, at the Faculty of Philosophy, Science and Letters of Rio Claro (FFCL/RC, in Portuguese « Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras de Rio Claro »), a strictly academic environment, these new treatments were announced (and then pedagogically retransmitted and applied) as scientific accomplishments; that is, without entering into the government’s decision-making sphere. Local applications involved different themes, such as issues of agricultural geography and geomorphology. It is important to mention that local Professors were already familiar with these themes or preferred them. Therefore, the new tools were ultimately functional. In other words, they fulfilled the function of refining the treatment of existing themes. In Rio de Janeiro, « cariocas » (a term used to denote the natives of Rio de Janeiro) were engaged in finding solutions. They were mostly public servers of governmental technical organizations; hence, their studies had to generate useful diagnoses and databases to meet planning and management demands. In Rio Claro, « paulistas » (a term used to denote the natives of São Paulo) were strictly driven by scientific curiosity and ideology. This is a possible explanation for the greater number of essays containing relections on epistemological matters produced in Rio Claro.

6Two events were essential to the consolidation of Brazilian TQG, given their contribution to disseminate the idea of a methodological revolution among South Americans: the « Quantitative Methods Commission Conference » (associated with the International Geographical Union, IGU), 1971; and the « Renewal of Geography » Symposium (organized by the Association of Brazilian Geographers, AGB), 1973. Both events took place in Rio de Janeiro. The former was a great opportunity for Brazilians to interact with foreign researchers once again, while the latter turned out to be a good occasion for representatives from both Brazilian centers Rio de Janeiro and Rio Claro to announce their accomplishments.

7We have been studying the assimilation and dissemination of TQG in Brazil for over ten years (Reis Júnior, 2006; 2009). The motivation for this research project was the lack of textual records on Brazilian geographical thinking. More precisely, records containing a diagnosis on the philosophical affiliation of scientific discourse and the development of local groups. As it can be deduced, the range of topics is wide. There are two paths for a science historian geographer: (i) pursuing the study of languages – with the appropriation of techniques, theories and concepts, for example (Johnston, 1981; Barnes, 2003), or (ii) choosing the investigation of historical conjunctures – e.g., the influence of cultural and political contexts (Monk, 1998; Pumain and Robic, 2002). Both alternatives improve the perception on how to think and practice geographical science. In Brazil, only recently such investigations on the history of thinking became attractive to a significant number of researchers.

8Since then, several studies have emerged as commendable materializations of the Brazilian effort to increase the number of studies on the history and philosophy of geographical science. The following endeavors reveal such effort: (1) the creation of a specialized journal, titled Terra Brasilis, in 2000; (2) the organization of scientific events, such as the Encontro Nacional de História do Pensamento Geográfico (first created in 1999 and reissued a decade later); and (3) the edition of book collections (usually gathering case studies) such as those coordinated by F. Mendonça and S. Kozel (2002), and by A. Vitte (2007) and P. Godoy (2010).

9Recently, we have investigated the case of a group of professors that, by sharing scientific ambitions and ideas, was responsible for developing a real imaginary (shared by Brazilian geographers) of the city of Rio Claro. Thanks to the pertinacity shared by local characters, and despite possible personal interpretations on the quantitative revolution, the city projected an image of being a “School” of Theoretical Geography.

10The present research is based on two record types: textual documents (especially from the 1970s) and oral testimonies by remaining characters from Rio Claro’s first generation (recorded from 2008 onward). Over the last four years, we have been reexamining major selected texts. In addition to this methodological practice of returning to primary and secondary sources, we also listened to the interviews once again and carefully polished the transcriptions. This led us to rediscover a fairly valuable material.

11With this historical inventory in hand, we sought to confront its content with what current historiographic manuals say about the Géographie Classique and the Theoretical and Quantitative Geography (Claval, 1978; Martin and James, 1993; Deneux, 2006; Broc, 2011; Robic, Tissier, and Pinchemel, 2011; Nayak and Jeffrey, 2013), which overcame it. We think that this is the only way that historiographic research, as well as research that draws attention to the local dimension of science, may indeed have some scientific relevance. If we want these studies to be useful to any future comparative studies the European versus American case, for instance then it is essential to confront the inductive spirit (inherent to the investigation of regional episodes) with the deductive reasoning (derived from the claims, present in certain manuals, that geographical science has evolved in a more or less replicable pattern).

Theoretical assumptions of this case study: methodological framework and hypothesis

12Social studies of science has a long tradition. From the Sociology of Knowledge (e.g., inspired by K. Mannheim in the 1920s, and by the functionalist tradition of Merton in the 1940s) to the so-called « Science Studies », various tendencies of theory and method were settling in. Therefore, these tendencies guided the inquiry of researchers interested in the contextual dimension of scientific practice (whether it is time or place).

13It is clear that the term « social studies of » science is a simplification of a series of perspectives on science and technology. The term encompasses sociology, but also history, anthropology, and recent cultural studies (related to science and gender, for example). Today, in this broad spectrum, we find the « Science, Technology and Society » (STS) program, the « Sociology of Scientific Knowledge » (SSK) program, as well as the aforementioned Science Studies. While the STS program seems to be interested in a more rational science policy and a broader and more responsible scientific education, the SSK program seems more interested in denouncing the interests behind claims of « authority » present in scientific and technological discourses. In any case, both aim at the « humanization » of science by demonstrating its essentially social character (Daston, 2009).

14In the epistemological context of science analysis, the interest in the historic angle came from a critique of the « received view » (on Anglo-American soil) from Viennese logical positivism. Thus, these « new philosophers of science » revolted against the excess of formalism in classic analyses and accused them of being simplistic and even fictional. They wanted the theoretical examination of a « real » science, giving prominence to the conjunctures of scientific practice. This new Philosophy of Science began to emerge during the 1960s when some scholars realized the importance of drawing attention to historical factors and social representations (L. Fleck, 1935 ; N. Hanson, 1958 ; S. Toulmin, 1972 ; L. Laudan, 1977 ; and especially T. Kuhn, 1962). The emergence of this historicist perspective definitively impacted on the metascientific reflections that came later (e.g., the semanticist view of science). Its influence was felt on issues such as : the importance of historical and social determinants ; the questioning of the traditional distinction between context of discovery and context of justification ; the problem of the theory-loading of observations ; the notion of values and progress of science ; and the problem of relativism (Adúriz-Bravo, 2007 ; Lorenzano, 2011).

15Considering, in turn, the so-called « new sociology of science », there have been at least five active research programs in the last decades, related to authors such as H. Collins, D. Bloor, B. Barnes, B. Latour, S. Woolgar, K. Knorr-Cetina and S. Shapin (Pessoa Júnior, 1993) :

  • the « relativist program » holds that all forms of knowledge are rooted in a sociocultural environment. In this approach, the idea of « true » knowledge depends on the time and place considered. The community works on its controversies and reaches a consensus in the end, regardless of context, this is what matters, more than a supposed logical justification ;

  • the « strong program » is a radical position within the sociology of science. It subjects everything to relativism, even abstractions of pure mathematics, given that human cognition would always reflect the social order. According to this view, every fact would be socially produced ;

  • the « theory of interest » employs the notion of « interest » as an explanatory principle in the study of science the idea is that interests of competing groups restrict their views and beliefs about nature ;

  • the ethnographies of « social constructivism » defend the thesis that science is « built by men ». This have led social scientists to experience the working place of other scientists, in order to observe how knowledge is built there (e.g., in a « laboratory »). In this research program, detailed descriptions are very important. Proponents of this view support the thesis that scientific operations are always impregnated with the notion of « decision ». They also defend that this decision, in the form of selection of topics to be investigated, is context-dependent ; and

  • the « social administration of facts » conceives science as a « pattern of activity » involving an organization of people sharing certain ends. This pattern of activity would include the social context ; thus, every approach to a scientific problem would have a counterpart in the social context. Science and context would be two sides of the same coin, « conventionally » constructed that is, they could be constructed in different ways, depending on the adopted convention.

16In North America, Science Studies was reinvigorated by feminist theory and by political movements in which researchers engaged themselves. Fertile and stimulating contacts between Science Studies and the history of science have also occurred in Britain, with researchers from Edinburgh and Cambridge, for example. Meanwhile, in continental Europe, ethnographic approaches (with Latour in France, and Knorr-Cetina in Germany) gave a strong impetus to the study of meticulous and concrete practices (Daston, 2009).

17With respect to « concrete practices », some scholars have recently paid more attention to the « geography » of knowledge production. By distinguishing space from place, scientists’ activities could be described in terms of the « physical location » where they take place (i.e., the « places » of science), or in terms of « communication networks » that favor the circulation of theories (i.e., the « flows » of science). Some might argue that a perspective solely centered on the place of scientific production reveals nothing beyond what the sociology of scientific knowledge already explains. Therefore, to say that knowledge originated in a specific place could minimize the importance of past events from which knowledge derived. However, this « spatial conjuncture » could be better emphasized, particularly because it is likely that the design of this « localism » is still under-theorized. There are details waiting for further clarification : how does knowledge spread from one context to another ? How widespread is this movement ? And what is the cause of this movement ? (Powell, 2007). The claim that knowledge inevitably originates in a particular place and that it tends to be widely accepted from the moment it « travels » to other places (e.g., through texts) to be validated by other people renders the question of a geography of science a fully fair claim.

18An intellectual challenge is to seek to understand not only how knowledge is produced in those specific places, but also how transactions occur between different places. One point to focus on is the issue of « travelling ». Science is a local product, but how does it successfully travel around ? (Shapin, 1998).

19In recent years, the spatial question has taken on an increasingly prominent position in the social sciences and also in meta-scientific studies. Thus « geographic discourse » (though not necessarily Geography itself) began to permeate the domain of intellectual studies that, until then, did not seem to be consciously interested in exploring issues of spatiality, territoriality, and locality (Livingstone, 1995). This is how historians of particular sciences began to realize the space factor. Ironically, historians of geography have not been so attentive to it. In a sense, this means that a « geography of Geography » may be overlooked, whereas a « geography of Physics » may not.

20A hybrid (sociological-geographic) case should be mentioned. The « actor-network theory » (ANT) is interested in the various means by which certain sites (i.e., centers) consolidate the position of other places. This theory shows how spaces are connected to each other, so that certain actors (or centers) determine the conduct of other actors at a distance. A locality, when dominant, may grant certain actors the ability to be prescriptvists and to put forward recommendations to actors from other locations. But ANT also maintains that, as a result of an action-at-a-distance, local behaviors can be proscribed and a center can dominate its periphery. Therefore, in designing a networked space, one can investigate the various forms of remote control (Murdoch, 1998). This key idea may be transposed into studies of spatial diffusion of scientific theories and practices ; especially when it comes to the case where a local center receives methodological innovations and/or disseminates its own improvement initiatives.

Figure 1 : « Externalist » perspectives on science analysis

Figure 1 : « Externalist » perspectives on science analysis

(elaborated by the author based on Pessoa Júnior, 1993; Adúriz-Bravo, 2007; and Lorenzano, 2011)

21This seems to be the case of our object of investigation, the Rio Claro episode. Nevertheless, it is important to reflect on how the socio-spatial conditions of the episode under analysis can be framed within a methodology supported by studies of historiography of science.

22In the last quarter of the twentieth century, new historiographic models emerged. The so-called « return of the subject » to the social sciences is one of these (the subject being sometimes understood as a « character »). It is a « microhistory » in which the scale of analysis is reduced in order to give a greater and better idea of the « location of actors » actors who are real and possibly have personal and unique experiences. Consequently, a new explanation for generalities is reached by this historiographic model now through a microscopic analysis (Aróstegui, 2001).

23The contemporary history of science has peculiarities regarding its sources of data. It is not limited to surveys from existing sources. Of course, these are still very useful sources for reinterpretations, but the contemporary historian is also able to create his own material (for example, combining interviews with already documented sources). It is clear that the researcher should not place complete confidence in what his or her interlocutor says in an interview or questionnaire. These procedures tend to clarify only those questions that the historian previously considered interesting or relevant. There is, therefore, a certain element of « control » involved. Informal contacts with the characters, in addition to the analysis of their texts, is frequent in current historiographies of science. Nevertheless, the researcher should be fully aware of methodological problems. The researcher starts working from publications on the matter and archives approved by the community of experts in the field (i.e., materials that are written in a moment close to the episode, revealing its details, and that are also produced by scientists actively involved with the subject matter). But the researcher will, forcibly, select what he or she thinks is representative. In addition, the « clear sequence of events » will not always look very discernible. The stories will not necessarily fit into each other, because the characters themselves may find it difficult to accurately reconstruct what they have accomplished or witnessed (Kragh, 2003).

24Therefore, the relative « inclination » of the historian will end up imposing itself on the reconstitution of that microhistory trying to accommodate possibly divergent declarations ; and seeking a « more logical » version, in agreement with certain presuppositions of the investigator (some of them, perhaps, not previously admitted).

25Throughout our research, we assumed that Rio Claro was an « episode » of creation of a center to spread the ideas and methods of TQG. But according to our hypothesis, this regional event did not simply represent an engagement against traditional scientific practices. It also included local peculiarities such as the concern to adapt theoretical models and to reflect on methodological gains.

The history of TQG in a small Brazilian town: a case study

26In São Paulo State, early essays on the application of modern techniques in Geography were published in the late 1960s, more precisely in a small town in the countryside, Rio Claro, located approximately 200km from the capital. This location, at the former FFCL/RC (currently the UNESP/RC, or, in Portuguese, « Universidade Estadual Paulista », Rio Claro Campus), became the scenario where a group of Professors would build a regional center for theoretical and quantitativist practices.

27In 1957, the Geography Program was founded in Rio Claro. During that time, there were other Geography programs: in São Paulo, the capital of São Paulo State, and in Rio de Janeiro, the federal capital city of Brazil at the time. These programs were founded in the mid-1930’s and 1940’s, respectively, and they were both strongly influenced by the famous French Mission (composed of figures such as Pierre Deffontaines and Pierre Monbeig). Consequently, the model of Geography established for education and research in Rio Claro followed the canons of the regional French school: monographic, empirical and descriptive studies of landscape.

28From 1957 to 1966, the person in charge of the new university in the countryside was João Dias da Silveira (1913-1973), a former student from the University of São Paulo, USP. Dias da Silveira conducted a thorough survey to identify regional demands for university programs. Upon the evident need to train new Geography teachers regionally, Dias da Silveira was dedicated to equip the new institution with competent professionals and high-quality cartographic and bibliographic materials. When traveling to Europe and the United States, he gathered collections of key journals: Annales de Géographie, Bulletin de l’Association des Géographes Français, Bibliographie Géographique Internationale, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, and Annals of the Association of American Geographers. This structure would very soon benefit from the conditions to absorb scientific news. For instance, through the adoption of a rather aprioristic and hypothetical-deductive model of science. Nevertheless, due to the strenght of French-inspired empirical and literary procedures, studies based on theoretical structures and mathematical techniques sounded eccentric.

29Between the decades of 1960 and 1970, when pioneering local speeches in favor of modernization emerged, Vidalian geography was fully consolidated in higher education institutions throughout the country. Therefore, the resistance was also locally dominant. At the time, USP was already considered a parameter of high-quality education in Brazil. Its Department of Geography was the working scenario for figures that historiography would soon celebrate for their alignment with the canons of French Geography. For roughly two generations (right after the « missionaries »), we had Aroldo de Azevedo, Dias da Silveira, Ary França, Pasquale Petrone, Nice Lecocq Müller, Aziz N. Ab’Sáber (Petrone, 1982; Estudos Avançados, 1994). In addition to good attributes, the Vidalian paradigm also manifested its contradictions in this famous center. Among the inconsistencies, an undisguised incoherence: the synthesis speech, in contrast with the practice of topical and sector analysis, rarely recomposed as a set. It would not be long before a few minds realized the conflict and sought an antidote in the vicinity of logical reasoning. But it was certainly not at USP, the overseas territory, so to speak, of French Geography, that such minds appeared. The perception of traditional methods’ insufficiency would arise in the periphery: Rio Claro. And, to a great extent, because of the personal (and almost casual) finding of a new Anglophone literature that the characters did not know about in their undergraduate courses a real « opening horizon », also experienced by the protagonists of the French-speaking TQG (Cuyala, 2014, p. 138).

30In the 1960s, two members of IBGE invited by Dias da Silveira became local leaders, personifying the rupture between physical and human geography. This fact is important to characterize Rio Claro’s early intellectual environment. The professionals were Carlos A. F. Monteiro and Elza Keller. They gathered around them students who were interested in their respective fields of study. A pioneer of rhythmic and systemic analysis in Brazilian Climatology, Monteiro remained in Rio Claro for three years, from 1960 to 1963. Keller, in turn, following the French thematic tradition, trained several students in specialized courses on agricultural studies naturally driven to explore regional manifestations of the agricultural environment.

Local characters: pioneers and disciples

31We will discuss two concepts inspired by a classification of authors working on linguistics and literary theory (Snell-Hornby, 2006, p. 5) : « pioneers » and « disciples ». « Pioneers » are those who, sometimes in a controversial way, are guided by intellectual traditions different from those that have already flourished in their intellectual milieu. « Disciples », in turn, are those who will “measure the success” of new programs established by their masters.

32The year of 1968 is a landmark. That is the year when professors José A. F. Diniz and Antonio O. Ceron defended their doctoral dissertations. They both are directly responsible for the local introduction of renewed scientific language. Despite the fact that their work kept a tone of traditionalism (particularly the undisguised style of describing facts), it already showed signs of a paradigmatic shift. Both Diniz and Ceron included in their case studies (each of them investigating a particular agricultural activity) the idea of a structuralist organization of space, justifying their approval of the virtues of systemic analysis. Incidentally, in 1970, they co-authored an article, published in a prestigious journal: Revista Brasileira de Geografia. The aforementioned article was of great importance to build the new epistemological identity of Geography in Rio Claro. It surely contributed to a enrich the imaginary regarding the institution: Rio Claro practiced science in disagreement with standards established in São Paulo, the official diocese of the French school in Brazil. In other words, the 1970s witnessed the raise of a tension between « metropolis » and « periphery ». This is in accordance with S. Cuyala’s ideas regarding the possibility that movements of renewal would emerge from the periphery (i.e., Rio Claro), and not necessarily from the “heart controlled by the guarantors of tradition” (Cuyala, 2014, p. 47) (i.e., São Paulo).

  • 1 Interview with Lucia Gerardi. Audio recording, 21 January 2009 (duration : 1h06min).

33Diniz is the most radical character. Back in 1963, he graduated in History and Geography at the former Catholic Faculty of Philosophy of Sergipe, in the northeast of Brazil. Being a very young professor, he played the role of an iconoclastic and avant-garde actor. According to testimonies, Diniz was a brilliant intellectual who was able to assimilate new information with remarkable agility. Nonetheless, he was reported to be a rather « difficult person », expressing his opinions in an intransigent manner. He was glad to fully discard the classic traditions. TQG represented to him an irreproachable achievement. A quite picturesque episode that L. Gerardi reported to us was the rescue of copies of Diniz’s doctoral dissertation from a trash can. An event that allows us to say that the professor was completely impregnated with the new scientific cause.1 During his years in Rio Claro (1965-1972), Diniz was dynamic, proved his spirit of leadership and, above all, his audacity for leading the foundation of a New Geography in a small town. Rio Claro would have been fated to a subordinate role if it had accepted the traditionalism imported from the capital without reservations.

34Ceron, in turn, graduated at USP in the late 1950s. He was invited by Dias da Silveira to be his assistant in Rio Claro, around 1962. In this context, Ceron and Diniz joined the group of agricultural studies organized by E. Keller. However, it was only a few years later, with the exoneration of senior professors, that this new generation of doctors led by Ceron and Diniz faced a great challenge: to take the reins of the local institution.

  • 2 Interview with Antonio Olívio Ceron. Audio recording, 14 January 2009 (duration : 1h28min).

35Along with Ceron and Diniz, Antonio Christofoletti joined forces to create a new scientific circle. The professor was transferred from the Catholic University of Campinas, also in São Paulo State. Another initiative worth mentioning was the immediate implementation of math courses. With the assiduous reading of relevant literature (including literature on Philosophy of Science), Rio Claro professors finally reached the long-sought method for their investigations. As a result, they found themselves in a more comfortable position to assimilate the logic underlying the theoretical models (e.g., gravity models, systemic models, diffusion models, etc.).2

36Diniz and Ceron managed to captivate co-workers and students dazzled by the novel methods. This was crucial for the new geography in Rio Claro to become gradually visible. Having a democratic spirit, the new movement explored group work dynamics and engaged students. Meeting on a weekly basis, students were able to establish a debate with their masters and to become gradually familiar with Anglo-Saxon literature with contents substantially different from the common French manuals. This dynamic between master and disciple revealed some characters of the second generation who proceeded to defend greater accuracy in scientific language. Names such as Lívia de Oliveira, Miguel Sanchez, Lucia Gerardi and Lígia Poltronieri soon became local authorities for this new tendency of quantitative and systemic treatments. The last three scholars completed their studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in Rio Claro.

  • 3 Interview with Lívia de Oliveira. Audio recording, 12 December 2008 (duration : 56min).

37L. de Oliveira, in turn, was a curious case. She belonged to a previous generation, having completed her academic studies at USP, where she received classical training on physics and human geography by professors such as Dias da Silveira and P. Petrone. After finishing her doctorate, in 1967, she went abroad to attend a geography congress in India (the 21st International Geographical Congress). There, a couple of geographers from South Korea mentioned that Iowa City, in the USA, had become a great center of intellectual effervescence. L. de Oliveira then decided to seize the opportunity of visiting a friend of hers coincidentally, a graduate student in Iowa City before returning to Brazil. She stayed in the USA for a month, where she met Professor J. P. Cole at the time, the head of the Geography Department. He was a very friendly figure who showed her around the institution and confirmed that Professors working there had long abandoned mere descriptions, adopting instead modern statistical tools. Fascinated by the collections of the local University Library, L. de Oliveira returned to Brazil with additional baggage: works proving the scientific changes as well as information on key figures (e.g, Harold Carter, Brian Berry, and Ian Burton). This was an opportunity to understand the realities of economy and production in the countryside of that North American region. Therefore, after returning to Brazil, she had a lot to share with her co-workers and students; especially those interested in agricultural studies (e.g., Diniz, Ceron, Gerardi, and Poltronieri).3

  • 4 Interview with Lígia Celória Poltronieri. Audio recording, 29 September 2008 (duration : 52min).

38Gerardi and Poltronieri, in turn, had joined institutional scientific initiation scolarship programs under the guidance of Professors Diniz and Ceron. This led them to the application of systems analysis and mathematical techniques in studies on the agricultural use of land in the state of São Paulo (Poltronieri, 1976). L. Poltronieri started by studying citrus production with the application of theories of spatial diffusion. Afterwards, she began to check data on field interventions as well, which enabled her to produce additional information regarding farmers’ perceptions.4 L. Gerardi initiated her scientific studies in 1967 as a freshman. She was supervised by Professor Diniz and attended Ceron’s classes. She frequently visited Diniz’s office and witnessed conversations between him and his co-worker Professor Christofoletti. This allowed her to gradually assimilate novel information on the new routes in Geography routes that she later recognized as “far more consistent” (Gerardi, 1977, p. 120). As a member of reading and discussion groups, she contributed to the local retransmission of Anglo-Saxon literature, through the review of books related to the theory of knowledge, epistemology, structuralist and systemic theories, logics, computer programming, and mathematical and statistical operations (Factor Analysis, Markov Chain, etc.). Gerardi reported to us that those sessions (in general, weekly meetings having one of the participants in charge) included not only the discussion of selected work, but also the exposition of questions and counterpoints, creating a stimulating atmosphere of debate. An interesting product of such study dynamics was a textbook on Agricultural Geography by Professors Diniz and Ceron a pedagogical material intended to assist students in learning quantitative techniques.

39Lucia Gerardi specialized in Statistical Models in 1973, when she also defended her doctoral dissertation on the application of systemic theory in a regional study on agricultural activity. As a Professor at the University of Rio Claro (where she remained from 1972 to 1996), Gerardi published the first Brazilian textbook of quantitative geography for university students in 1981: Quantificação em Geografia (Quantification in Geography). This very successful work is still adopted today by the few programs teaching calculation techniques (Gerardi and Silva, 1981).

  • 5 Interview with Miguel César Sanchez. Audio recording, 29 September 2008 (duration : 38min).

40Finally, there is Miguel Sanchez, who began his career teaching in Rio Claro back in 1966. Sanchez chose the cartographic branch of the quantitative revolution, with specialization on the development of cartograms. This field had become more objective, given new expedients that allowed the rationalization and standardization of class intervals, solving possible detail losses.5

41Two aspects were particular of the TQG practiced in Rio Claro. One of them consists of investigations on agricultural geography. In other words, the typical locational analysis of TQG, in Brazil, was also used to introduce the “efficiency talk” into studies on the primary sector of the economy.

42Meanwhile, the other epicenter of Quantitative Geography in the country (IBGE, Rio de Janeiro) was particularly dedicated to apply abstract models in urban phenomenon and regional simulations. The center located in São Paulo State focused on agricultural researches, due to the agricultural history of the region. Among the topics were typology of properties and crops, identification of agricultural activity organization patterns, deduction of effects on regional development etc. What both centers had in common was the incorporation of a very modern discourse style: the explanation of processes was guided by a reasoning that legitimized certain ideological propensities of the context. This is exemplified by ideas on « planning » and « strategic action ».

43The other intrinsic aspect of the TQG practiced in Rio Claro is the role played by a local character who made remarkable contributions to the field: Antonio Christofoletti. Like his co-workers Diniz and Ceron, Christofoletti received a French-style training in Geography. With a specialization on Physical Geography studies, he first practiced the geomorphology of Davisian tradition, advocated by icons such as Emmanuel de Martonne. Nonetheless, Christofoletti cultivated a habit from his early years as a student: tracking new literature published internationally. That is how he discovered that the Anglo-American literature was showing signs of a theoretical-methodological transfiguration. Being devoted as he was to follow the efforts of Dias da Silveira who established in Rio Claro one of the finest university libraries in the country Christofoletti observed an increasing use of statistical techniques in the works of British and North-American authors.

44Implicit in those works, he identified a praise of studies driven by theoretical models and, not rarely, an additional recommendation of exercising epistemological consideration two rare procedures among Brazilian geographers. Therefore, Christofoletti was definitively responsible for the local disruption of the classical paradigm. Thanks to him, contemporary issues of the famous Annals of the Association of American Geographers and the nascent Progress in Geography, as well as seminal works by Richard Chorley, Peter Haggett and Brian Berry, were available to undergraduate and graduate students in Rio Claro. This transgressive literature, at the time, was inaccessible even to the university libraries of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

45By instituting the environmental perspective of TQG, Christofoletti produced and supervised studies on watersheds morphometry. Enhanced with a rhetoric clearly reverent towards thermodynamic theory, those studies would disclose the maximum terms of the neopositivist philosophy: linguistic accuracy and physicalism.

Figure 2: Map of Brazilian key institutions

Figure 2: Map of Brazilian key institutions

(elaborated by the author)

A display of discourses

46A very helpful perspective regarding interpretative analyses of the history of science is the attention to characters’ discourse.

47An interesting expedient for the analytic operation is the identification of statements “constituents” (in scientific, literary or religious enunciations). These components of speech give meaning to the actions of the community expressing them. Consequently, they give rise to various types of discourse. The constituents define a mode of organization, a discursive cohesion that build meaning from the arrangement of elements that form the text. A standard discourse that guarantees the behavior of a community is then established, given that discourse constituents delineate the “lieu commun” of this same community (Maingueneau and Cossutta, 1995, p. 113).

48On the other hand, statements always display some degree of internal heterogeneity. Within a scientific discourse, for instance, there may be many other types of discourse, some of which do not even belong to the domain of science in question. Nevertheless, within a « canonical discursive form », scientists (i.e., speakers and writers) will always express the principles of reproducibility of a community language. Thus, despite the need for a cautious view, one that does not distort the meaning of the speech, it is useful to detect the sense of certain denotative expressions or « constituents ».

49Our particular object of investigation enabled us to identify and classify a few remarkable types of discourse. We arbitrarily represented them using the notation « DT(x) » (or « Discourse Type » 1, 2, 3…). Three of them are worth mentioning.

50Firstly, we have what we call the « eulogistic » discourse (DT(1)) (i.e., a positive, optimistic announcement of the methodological revolution). In brief, it shows both awareness of the fact and trust in its products. Secondly, we have the « assimilation » discourse (DT(2)), revealing the author’s familiarity with the « linguistic stigmas » inherent to the TQG. Consequently, authors will spontaneously use expressions associated with mathematical techniques, as well as vocabulary related to new concepts, theories and/or models. This is, therefore, the typical discourse of the user. It has no direct intention of promoting theoretical and quantitative practices. Instead, it aims to present the obtained results to the scientific community. Finally, the third type of discourse (DT(3)) is the « warned » discourse draws attention to the author’s awareness of possible restrictions and particular problems related to statistical techniques or theoretical models.

51Below, we display textual excerpts of DT(1) arguments. These quotations exemplify eulogistic discourse, proving the ideological engagement of the characters. As we briefly mentioned at the beginning of the text, oral testimonies were recorded and textual statements were analysed mainly in 2008, when we conducted a postdoctoral study at UNESP/RC. In what follows, we present only a small sample of excerpts taken from classical articles. The selection was based on the criterion of representativeness of the character’s speech with respect to an optimistic thought.

All methodological principles elaborated by the Commission on Agricultural Typology [IGU, 1971], combined with new quantitative techniques and indexes, formed a genuine Theoretical Agricultural Geography with well-defined concepts and developing methodology. Contrary to what many people would think, our scientific field has become clearer, more well-defined, methodologically safer, and it is achieving better results in less time; in short, it has become more logical.” (Diniz, 1970, p. 1 [emphasis added]).

The growing contact with work developed by foreign geographers who were familiarized with the mathematization of science clearly revealed that mathematics is necessary, not only to improve the assimilation and manipulation of quantitative methods, but also to improve the understanding of the philosophical foundations of Modern Geography.” (Ceron, 1971, p. 57 [emphasis added]).

By using general systems theory, geographical research follows the methodological and analytical procedures applied to other sciences and allows geographers to enjoy the technical and scientific revolution of this century.” (Christofoletti and Oliveira, 1971, p. 11 [emphasis added]).

We intend to review several processes usually employed to solve the problem and to present, in the end, a technique that emerged thanks to the laudable fact that Geography has increasingly turned to Mathematical Science.” (Sanchez, 1972, p. 53-54 [emphasis added]).

The objective of this article is to inform readers about the initiatives conducted by the Rio Claro Department of Geography of the Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters to adjust educational programs to new geographical conceptions, providing future geographers and Geography professors with the tools to meet the challenges of today’s world.” (Gerardi, 1972, p. 67 [emphasis added]).

Evolutionary stages of a regional pole: apogee and the last remaining traces

52Two local initiatives were decisive for the establishment of the Rio Claro epicenter: the creation of an Association (the Associação de Geografia Teorética, AGETEO, or Association of Theoretical Geography), and the creation of a journal (the Boletim de Geografia Teorética, BGT, or Bulletin of Theoretical Geography), both established in 1971.

53According to the Presentation text of the Bulletin (Christofoletti et al., 1971, p. 3), it was created to publish and discuss “theoretical aspects of Geography with emphasis on quantitative techniques. Thus, considering the methodological renewal of the discipline in the two preceding decades (and which was then reaching Brazil), the Bulletin sought to “facilitate access to new ideas”. A similar discourse was present in the “Éditorial” of the first issue of L’Espace Géographique. It reinforced the journal’s commitment to “welcome new ideas”, and “put particular emphasis on questions of technique, method, and even epistemology” (L’Espace Géographique, 1972, p. 6).

54The AGETEO, along with a local section of the AGB (the first section in the countryside of São Paulo), promoted training courses and thematic conferences to disseminate innovations, improvements and experiences on scientific practices in Geography. The effort of local characters (e.g., Professors and students) also appeared in the artisanal format of BGT early issues (i.e., typewritten, with manually glued covers). In fact, the first issue of the Bulletin was financed by funds gathered from the sale of the aforementioned textbook on Agricultural Geography. When Christofoletti managed to get a publisher to professionally produce the issues, Rio Claro already had an irrevocable fame. This is when the epicenter was spreading its theoretical ideas by promoting extension courses in Brazilian capitals and countryside cities: courses on elements of quantification, measurement and similarity, locational perspective, theory of spatial classifications, technique of trend surface analysis, spatial systems in human geography, etc.

55The Bulletin’s title was Christofoletti’s idea. According to him, the word « teorética », an unusual word in current Brazilian Portuguese, would express its unique character. This information was confirmed in interview with Professor Lívia de Oliveira. According to her, the Dean of USP at the time, Ary França, wanted to know why the title of the publication included the word « teorética » instead of the most common term « teórica ». In response to his indignation, she stated that the intention was to get the attention of Brazilian geographers. Hence, the editorial initiative helped to leverage the national image of Rio Claro.

56Rio Claro also hosted early editions of important events: the National Meeting of Agricultural Geography (1970s), the National Meeting of Graduate Research in Geography (1980s) and the Latin-American Geographers’ Meeting (1980s). In the 1970s, to symbolize the delimitation of a scientific territory, Professors from Rio Claro taught courses on Quantitative Techniques in Geography, invited by AGB’s regional sections. The AGB-SP requested, in 1973, a course intended to train Professors and students from the Department of Geography at the University of São Paulo. After that, USP invited Christofoletti, Ceron and Sanchez to teach classes and supervise graduate researchers in the capital. While there, they managed to teach a few notions on modelling and quantitative techniques, presenting the potential of the new imagery resources, such as aerial and remote images. Some followers of the « USPian thinking tradition » had to admit that those resources were useful to environmental, agricultural and cartographic studies. But, more than that, the trio revealed a new perspective: “the expansion of the boundaries of geographical knowledge” beyond Rio Claro (Gerardi, 2008, p. 2).

57This credibility came to be decisive to prevent the Geography program from being closed down in Rio Claro. In fact, the state government had plans to close down all Humanities programs there. At the time, the FFCL/RC did become extinct, but the Geography program remained and became part of the Institute of Geosciences and Exact Sciences, IGCE, founded in 1976.

58Three key characters, Christofoletti, Ceron and Sanchez, joined USP’s graduate program for some years, despite the skepticism among São Paulo Professors and the distorted picture reproduced by Geography students from the capital. A comic episode nevertheless, an offensive one involved a caricatural depiction published in a students’ newspaper of USP. With a mocking tone, students described the Geography practice from São Paulo’s countryside. Using wordplay, they referred to Rio Claro as the « Dark River », since in Portuguese « Rio Claro » means « clear river ». In addition, the term « Geografia Teorética » appeared translated as “Geography without Content or Ethics”, since in Portuguese « teor » means « content » or « meaning » (Gerardi, 2008, p. 4) and « ética » means « ethics ».

59During the 1980s, the city of Rio Claro consolidated its image as the epicenter of Brazilian Theoretical Geography and a center of excellence in graduate studies. This was possible due to the coordinated efforts of Antonio Christofoletti and Lucia Gerardi. Both were responsible for the survival of local journals and for maintaining Rio Claro up-to-date in theoretically solid technical approaches to geomorphology and agricultural dynamics. However, what makes Rio Claro indisputable as the Brazilian center of TQG is the continuous arrival of students, coming from different regions of the country, to complete their Masters and Doctorate degrees. Those students consequently carried out the task of sharing their ideals after returning to their hometowns. Thesis and dissertations developed under the supervision of local Professors in Rio Claro were the result of research that predicted the careful adaptation of techniques and models to different Brazilian regional contexts under investigation. A similar tendency was also observed in the early 1970s, when enthusiastic members of local study groups wanted to engage in autonomous tests of application.

60It is also worth mentioning that, following this 1970s tendency, the adaptability of indexes standardized by European and North American models was highly debated. Professors Diniz and Ceron had already experienced this dilemma through their association with the IGU worldwide project (Agricultural Typology). There was an opposition between a generalizing view and certain apparently exceptional realities.

61In contrast, a detail compromised the « team » image and, consequently, the longevity of any possible local developments of the quantitative revolution: the lack of visibility for Rio Claro outside the country. Except for Christofoletti’s frequent scientific visits to European universities (in particular, British universities in the early 1990s) (Christofoletti, 1992) and the appeal of his personal publications in South American countries (e.g., his ideas on « geosystem » and « environmental planning »), the « TQG in Rio Claro » was hardly noticed in the international scenario. The fact that local characters did not publish their work in English unlike theoretical geographers of IBGE, who had this concern (Brazilian Institute of Geography, 1971; Becker, Geiger, and Faissol, 1980) probably caused that situation to arise.

62In 1995, twenty years after its creation, BGT published its last issue. For economic reasons, editors decided to keep only one local journal, Geografia, which addressed a larger set of topics. This decision defined the end of the most exuberant ventures of the local TQG. Antonio Christofoletti, editor-in-chief of both local journals, was against that decision. He continued as the last exponent of the theoretical circle that two decades earlier was raising in the city.

63The other characters, who were involved in the assimilation and application of quantitative techniques between the 1970s and 1980s, dissociated themselves from the enterprise for different causes. Diniz was transferred to a Northeastern university ; Ceron and Sanchez retired ; de Oliveira shifted his attention to the humanistic studies of Geography ; Poltronieri discovered other explanatory approaches to rural space ; and Gerardi got involved in administrative duties both at the University and research support foundations.

64Since the 1980s, Christofoletti had encountered strong opponents in roundtable discussions at Brazilian conferences, when he had to face angered criticism from scholars who opposed quantitative geography. Such opponents contributed to disseminate the misconceived idea that scientific journals created in Rio Claro, as well as research groups from the city, were essentially « quantitativists ». They missed the fact that these journals included, in later issues, deeply diverse themes and that local characters made remarkable efforts to adaptive testing. Therefore, they were not merely, or « mechanically », adapting calculations. Even so, Christofoletti remained strong. He passionately persisted in an activity that everyone agrees is his most characteristic: the tracking of Anglo-Saxon literature and, consequently, the monitoring of theoretical and methodological innovations.

65This perpetual habit had two effects. The first effect reveals yet another obstinacy: to defend methodological modernization. That is, being aware of contemporary literature, he realized aspects such as the migration of other theories and models to the field of Geography: chaos, bifurcation, fractal geometry, etc. In this context, he ended up promoting, in Brazil, the work of researchers such as Alan Wilson, Michael Batty, Alexander Fotheringham, Jonathan Phillips, Michael Goodchild, among others. Christofoletti saw this « transference » as a sign of revitalization of neo-positivism in Geography. In other words, he argued that the explanatory power of natural sciences still had something to teach to geographers committed to improve the description of their research object. Therefore, during the 1990s, Christofoletti supported the idea that TQG was an unfinished paradigm: still alive and fertile.

It is now opportune to reclaim the continuity of the analytical lineage of geography and to realize the potential of the approach initiated with systems analysis and quantification in the 1960s. It is pertinent to understand that this pioneer period has been enhanced with contributions related to the chaos theory, dynamic systems and fractal geometry arising in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the ‘emerging science of complexity.’” (Christofoletti, 1996, p. 219 [emphasis added]).

66The second effect was the stimulus to produce his own “retransmitting” literature, so to speak. This tendency had been no surprise since the 1970s, when Christofoletti published Geomorfologia, or Geomorphology (1974), and Análise de Sistemas em Geografia, or Systems Analysis in Geography (1979). Both works intended to discuss, in a very optimistic tone, the benefits of the systemic approach to the work of geographers. However, his persistent attitude in spreading the thesis of TQG’s longevity would only become evident in Modelagem de Sistemas Ambientais, or Modelling of Environmental Systems, a book published in the same year that he passed away (1999). In his book-epilogue, Christofoletti comments on the fundamental routes to prevent the geographic science from disappearing: alignment with pragmatism, renewed interest in robust theories and adoption of more efficient procedures.

Figure 3: First and second generations of Rio Claro « activists »

Figure 3: First and second generations of Rio Claro « activists »

Source: all photos were taken by the author, except « Christofoletti »’s photo (Mendes, 2000, p. 103)6

67Ten years after early visible manifestations in favor of a new Geography (more scientific, more pragmatic), a new contingent of Brazilian geographers, this time more expressive, began to walk towards another promised land. The year of 1978 is the symbol of these new routes because of two episodes: (1) the Congress of Brazilian Geographers that took place in the city of Fortaleza, Ceará State (in the northeast of Brazil), holding notably critical talks with Marxist content; and (2) the book Por uma Geografia Nova: da Crítica da Geografia a uma Geografia Crítica (in English, For a New Geography: from a Criticism of Geography to a Critical Geography) by Milton Santos (1926-2001). The Congress offered a place for university Professors from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo to express their dissatisfaction towards studies that, from their point of view, could not disguise their « tragic » fault: they were supposedly ideological and poorly substantiated. In turn, Por uma Geografia Nova (...) represented, in a textual document, the desire for rupture. Milton Santos’ book was about to become the quintessence of this longing for a new style of science: more socially oriented and more engaged. The Brazilian version of Critical or Radical Geography was rising:

‘New Geography’ did not produce new knowledge, but a new lack of knowledge [...]. By subjecting the space to capitalists’ interests, it created a prison, planned by increasingly capitalist states.” (Gonçalves, 1978, p. 19); “the major mistakes suggested by the application of modelistic approaches to geography stem from mechanical practices aggravated by excesses of quantitative geography that transform a given concept [‘model’] into a metaphysical category; history is interrupted in order to adopt a frozen scheme” (Santos, 2004 [1978], p. 89).

68Certainly, the series of motivations that triggered the manifestation of Radical Geography in Brazil included some of the ingredients that the historiographical literature regarded as decisive for the epistemological turn in the Anglo-Saxon academic geography. Especially those associated with the aggravation of social ills essentially expressed in a society divided in lowest and highest socioeconomic groups according to the capitalist status quo (Johnston, 1986; 2009).

  • 7 Notwithstanding the official self-advertising government speech stating that, from 1969 to 1973, Br (...)

69Brazil, such as great part of Latin America, was facing serious issues concerning income distribution as seen in the negative effects of underemployment and impoverishment of a great part of the population. Furthermore, since the 1960s the country had been under a military dictatorship, which ended up jeopardizing an impartial meaning of the TQG in the imaginary of left-wing Brazilian geographers. Despite the undeniably harmful social and economic effects of the regime,7 the style of geography practiced by IBGE technicians which, of course, was at the service of government’s goals simply revealed the most rational and efficient calculation tools and theoretical modelling available at the time. In other words, this strand of scientific thought deliberately favored optimized reasoning. In a different context (e.g., in a social democracy or in a socialist state), it would have been useful to any government concerned with strategic planning. Nonetheless, since the 1980s, Geography Departments throughout the country rapidly became representatives of “anti-quantitativism turning their institutions into sounding boards for an ideology forged in academic circles from central Brazil (Araújo-Neto and Reis Júnior, 2011). Thus, we believe that the attack selected the wrong target even though the political context certainly was serious enough to warrant a very legitimate reaction from Brazilian social scientists.

Discussion and Conclusions

70Throughout our research, we assumed that the « Rio Claro episode » (i.e., the creation of a center to spread TQG’s ideas and methods) occurred in a very particular way. That is, our hypothesis was that, more than a regional initiative of rupture with the traditional geographic research carried out in the country, it also presented singularities that differentiated it from other similar enterprises (e.g., the emergence of TQG in Rio de Janeiro). These singularities were clearly seen in the adaptation of the new theories and techniques to very specific applied themes : agrarian and geomorphological themes, essentially.

71Our research was developed within the general framework of the Social Studies of Science (SSS). It involved both ethnomethodological aspects and microhistory. But, above all, it highlighted the differential element of spatiality. This « spatiality » is precisely associated with the scientific performance of a local group of agents.

72Similar studies have already been carried out. Some tend to accentuate facts related to particular sciences ; others, discuss the ways in which certain methods and theories are reassessed. But all these studies somehow draw attention to a particulally « local » attribute of knowledge production, as we intended here. There are studies on research activities carried out in small and medium-sized cities in which the authors, for example, evaluate the production of knowledge in these places and estimate the degree of internationalization of the science produced there (Lévy and Jégou, 2013). Other studies recover old concepts of « centre » and « periphery » to question them, demonstrating that the latter is not always a subsidiary of the former (Gavroglu et al., 2008).

73Rio Claro, a small and provincial town in São Paulo’s countryside caught the eyes of the Brazilian academic community in the 1970s. Gathering characters instigated by the methodological modernization from foreign scenarios, Rio Claro remained in the imagination as a national epicenter of theoretical and quantitative research in Geography for almost two decades.

74In Rio Claro, militant geographers embracing the « quantitative cause » were actually typical university professors (that is, mostly driven by curiosity and enthusiasm, unlike militants from Rio de Janeiro). But the emergence of a discriminatory speech based on an « anti-positivist » ideology explains the reproaches endured by Brazilian theoretical geographers.

75Oddly enough, the imaginary associated with the local Department of Geography persisted, despite subsequent actions performed by professors. In the 1980s, regardless of L. Gerardi and A. Christofoletti’s decisive performance (the last two remaining characters from the generation established a decade earlier), strictly quantitativist studies gradually decreased. However, given the equally gradual diffusion of the critical paradigm, the Department lingered in radical minds as a place still dominated by a style of science that should be fought.

76Particularly, Christofoletti’s performance stirred up vitriolic discourses, due to the content of his publications (which, in fact, expressed reverence for abstract, analogical and naturalistic models). Thus, the work he conducted until his late days, almost completely by himself, was mistaken for a general image of the institution. « Rio Claro Geography » ended up personified by Christofoletti, as if he was the honorary consul of Geography to be wiped out.

77We conclude our brief narrative with a supplementary interpretative insight. The Rio Claro group may have faded because the characters of the local TQG except for Christofoletti’s tireless efforts had no chances to fully explore the potential of this wave of renewal. And that may be because the small number of Professors had not been able to locally perpetuate their work. In other words, they had no direct successors to conduct long-term projects by joining forces and sharing responsibilities with them.

  • 8 It should be clear that, although the « Avignon case » is emblematic, another French city won the s (...)

78In the French scenario,8 on the other hand, this situation was different. There, the “Groupe Dupont”, also created in the 1970s, had the same intention of assimilating and retransmitting the methodological revolution (Chamussy, 1997). Although pioneers have not succeeded in giving rise to a large generation of successors, they knew how to maintain their Géopoint encounters. Nowadays, these meetings are not exclusively dedicated to mathematical techniques, but still attract papers on systemic modeling.

79Notwithstanding this externalist view of collapse, the truth is that one should not underestimate the function of this small group of Rio Claro professors. Within their possibilities and restrictions, detached from any political or ideological bonds, they drew the attention of Brazilian Geography to the possibility of pursuing more consistent, reliable and practical approaches.

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1 Interview with Lucia Gerardi. Audio recording, 21 January 2009 (duration : 1h06min).

2 Interview with Antonio Olívio Ceron. Audio recording, 14 January 2009 (duration : 1h28min).

3 Interview with Lívia de Oliveira. Audio recording, 12 December 2008 (duration : 56min).

4 Interview with Lígia Celória Poltronieri. Audio recording, 29 September 2008 (duration : 52min).

5 Interview with Miguel César Sanchez. Audio recording, 29 September 2008 (duration : 38min).

6 URL :

7 Notwithstanding the official self-advertising government speech stating that, from 1969 to 1973, Brazil experienced an “economic miracle” (Singer, 1972).

8 It should be clear that, although the « Avignon case » is emblematic, another French city won the spotlight : Besançon. There, in the 1970s, Professors Jean-Claude Wieber (1932-2011) and Jean-Philippe Massonie (1936-2009) were responsible for holding important local colloquia (e.g., “Colloque sur l’Analyse des Données en Géographie” and “Colloque sur les Méthodes Mathématiques Appliquées à la Géographie”). These meetings, a few years later, became the famous Theo Quant, directed by Professor Maryvonne Le Berre (1940-2012) (Cuyala, 2014 ; Reis Junior, 2014).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1 : « Externalist » perspectives on science analysis
Crédits (elaborated by the author based on Pessoa Júnior, 1993; Adúriz-Bravo, 2007; and Lorenzano, 2011)
Fichier image/jpeg, 236k
Titre Figure 2: Map of Brazilian key institutions
Crédits (elaborated by the author)
Fichier image/jpeg, 264k
Titre Figure 3: First and second generations of Rio Claro « activists »
Crédits Source: all photos were taken by the author, except « Christofoletti »’s photo (Mendes, 2000, p. 103)6
Fichier image/jpeg, 668k
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Référence électronique

Dante Flavio da Costa Reis Junior, « A historiography of Brazilian theoretical and quantitative geography: The “Rio Claro case”, from flourishing to fall », Cybergeo : European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Epistémologie, Histoire de la Géographie, Didactique, document 837, mis en ligne le 12 décembre 2017, consulté le 26 janvier 2020. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/cybergeo.28824

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Dante Flavio da Costa Reis Junior

Département de Géographie Université de Brasilia, Brazil
Campus Darcy Ribeiro 70910-900 Brasilia, Brésil

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