3Cs at the Autonomous Geographies Encounter in Ecuador

3Cs was honored to participate in the Encuentro de Geografías Críticas y Autónomas [Critical and Autonomous Geographies Encounter] in Ecuador earlier this year. There we were introduced to a vibrant autonomous geography and cartography movement from across Latin America.

We were hosted by the Critical Geography Collective of Ecuador, which has produced an impressive range of maps with different social movements across Ecuador (related to mining, indigenous land struggles, violence against women, and many other crucial struggles) and a number of pamphlets on critical geography and mapping. (For more about the Collective in English, see their entry in This Is Not An Atlas).

We had the pleasure of meeting a variety of other collectives from across Latin America, to name just a few:

  • Geocomunes Collective from Mexico, which works with communities and social movements to make maps to aid in struggles to defend the commons, all of their data and maps are open source and available for download and use.
  • Geobrujas, a collective of feminist geographers from across Mexico, who combine different methodologies from geography, cartography, dance, theater, and other forms of therapy in their work with different communities.
  • Miradas críticas del territorio desde el feminismo, a transnational collective that also uses a combination of feminist methodologies in their work, particularly focusing on exploring the relation between the body and the territory (they explain more about their methodology in this really interesting guide).
  • Programa Kioscos Socio-ambientales, based at the University of Costa Rica that uses mapping and other geographic tools to provide support to communities engaged in socio-environmental conflicts.
  • Colectivo de Geografía Crítica Gladys Armijo, from Chile, which uses different types of collective mapping to support socioterritorial movements and struggles. See their atlas on the socio-environmental dimension of territorial conflicts in Chile here).
  • Cartografía Sur, from Colombia, which works with groups of women and youth, and Black, Indigenous and LGBTQI communities across Colombia in projects to strengthen those communities and promote their economic and cultural self-determination.
Map of critical & autonomous geography collectives in Latin America

The meeting was full of rich and fascinating conversations and presentations that would be impossible to summarize here, but a few themes stood out:

1) A critique of the geo-political economy of knowledge production: why does knowledge produced in the US/Europe, in English, count for more, even in academic institutions in Latin America? Why are scholars in Latin America encouraged to publish in English, to cite English-language work, and intervene in European/US academic debates, when there are such rich conversations already taking place in Latin America, and especially from movements and sites that don’t have access to those academic discussions. Of course, this is tied to broader colonial and imperialist power relations, in which certain types of knowledge and certain sites of knowledge production are valued above others. This is something that 3Cs has looked at it in our work on global university rankings, as well as more broadly in theorizing the relationship between the US university and its multiple outsides. What was unique about this meeting in Ecuador was that it explicitly created a space for valuing other knowledges, other forms and sites of knowledge production.

2) The importance of collective knowledge production: the meeting was made up almost entirely of collectives (which was refreshing change from most academic conferences!). Discussion focused on the importance of this collective work – both within the collectives themselves and between collectives and other organizations or social movements – as an alternative to individualized and competitive forms of knowledge production valued and promoted in the capitalist academy. Yet, one problem noted by almost all the collectives present, was how the increasingly precarious conditions of higher education (and life in general!) make that collective work difficult: since collective publications are not valued, people prioritize their individual work; and in general, many of us are forced to constantly move for jobs, work ever longer hours to make ends meet, making it harder to dedicate time and space to building that collective infrastructure. Here is where more autonomous structures, on the margins of the academy, might have more to offer in terms of really creating spaces for consistent collective practice outside of logics of accumulation and competition.

3) The relationship between collectives and social movements: Most of the collectives present work in some way with communities or grassroots organizations or social movements outside of the academic spheres. Thus one of the themes of conversation focused on how to construct meaningful relations with those communities/movements/organizations. Each of the collectives presented very thoughtful ideas describing very careful practices for maintaining those relationships and doing geographic and mapping work that aids communities in struggles, emphasizing the importance of listening to movements’ needs and requests and cultivating long-term relationships. This also, of course, involves thinking about the role of the researcher/mapper, which in 3Cs we have often thought of in terms of starting from our own position, that is mapping our own struggles and their connection to others, helping them do the same, instead of speaking for or trying to represent others. While other collectives presented different approaches, there was generally a shared commitment to trying to carry out work that would truly aid struggles instead of only serving as another example of academic extraction of community knowledge to further the careers of individual researchers.

See more of these ideas developed in the collective statement that came out of the encounter, and stay tuned for a follow-up post on some of the methodologies presented in the workshop with communities in the Amazon.