Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Alternative geographical traditions from the Global South

By Federico Ferretti, UCD, Dublin, and Breno Viotto Pedrosa, Federal University of Latin American Integration  

In the last few years, a rich literature has addressed what might be defined as “alternative geographical traditions”, accounting for a plurality of views, in the history and philosophy of geography. Scholarship in anarchist geographies analyses the shared ‘roots’ of the anarchist tradition and the geographical one (Ferretti et al., 2017; White 2015; Springer 2016). Historical geographers also investigate labour history, anti-racism and global networks of solidarity beyond nationalistic views of the concept of anti-colonialism (Davies 2017, Featherstone 2012; Griffin 2017).

Recently, critical scholarship produced by political dissidents in Latin America during the second half of the twentieth century has been brought to the attention of Anglophone readers.  For example, Anglophone readers have engaged with the work of three Brazilians who were persecuted by the military dictatorship, which ran their country between 1964 and 1985: Josué De Castro (1908-1973); Milton Santos (1926-2001); and Manuel Correia de Andrade (1922-2007) (Ferretti 2018). These authors can be understood as exponents of alternative geographical traditions for three reasons: first, they criticised mainstream discourses on development, countering neo-colonialism and Malthusianism; second, the places and spaces of their work were alternative to the circulation of mainstream scholarship as they established scholarly and activist networks outside Europe and North America, including South-South relationships; and third, they represented a cultural alterity to the dominant discourses mentioned above, being multilingual scholars publishing in English but also (and especially) in Latin languages such as Spanish, Portuguese and French.

Important materials on the figure of Milton Santos have emerged, especially thanks to the work edited by Lucas Melgaço, Carolyn Prouse and Tim Hall, including translations of Santos’s work (Bernardes et al. 2017; Davies 2018; Melgaço 2017; Melgaço and Prouse 2017; Santos 2017) and an Antipode forum collecting interventions by Santos’s students and friends. Now, a paper by Federico Ferretti (UCD) and Breno Viotto Pedrosa (UNILA), published by TIBG, provides for the first time an analysis of Santos’s networks with critical and radical geographers of the ‘Global North’. It does so through archival research on Santos’s unpublished correspondence, which is held at the São Paulo IEB (Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros), a collection only recently opened to researchers and whose story is told via the Milton Santos’s website.

Other initiatives are recovering the memory of radical geographers of that generation. For example, the digitalization of the archives of the Union of Socialist Geographers Newsletter on the Antipode Foundation website.  Our paper explores unpublished correspondences between Santos and Neil Smith (1954-2012) on the initiatives of this association. The paper demonstrates that Santos played an influential, albeit still neglected, role in shaping the field of international critical and radical geographies in the 1960s and 1970s.

Born in Bahia, in the Nordeste region, one of the states with the most numerous Afro-Brazilian communities, Santos was a radical and transnational scholar aware of both anarchist and Marxist traditions. Showing the importance of Santos’s activism in both the French-speaking and the English-speaking circuits, which inaugurated key journals in the field such as Hérodote in France and Antipode in North America, contributes to a reassessment of the role played by the Global South in ‘theorising back’. At the same time, it exposes the importance of doing research on primary sources in different countries and different languages to reconstruct transnational and transcultural networks. In a nutshell, decolonising geographical knowledge.

About the authors: Federico Ferretti is a lecturer at the School of Geography at UCD Dublin. Breno Viotto Pedrosa is Professor at the Federal University of Latin American Integration. 


Bernardes A et al. 2017 The active role of geography: a manifesto Antipode 49, 4 952–958.

Davies Archie 2018 Milton Santos: The conceptual geographer and the philosophy of technics Progress in Human Geography [early view]

Davies Andy 2017 Exile in the homeland? Anti-colonialism, subaltern geographies and the politics of friendship in early twentieth century Pondicherry, India Environment and Planning D, Society and space 35, 3 457-474

Griffin P 2017 Making usable pasts: collaboration, labour and activism in the archive Area [early view:]

Featherstone D 2012 Solidarity: hidden histories and geographies of internationalism Zed, London.

Ferretti F Barrera G Ince A and Toro F 2017 Eds. Historical geographies of anarchism – Early critical geographers and present-day scientific challenges Routledge, Abingdon.

Ferretti F 2018 Geographies of internationalism: radical development and critical geopolitics from the Northeast of Brazil Political Geography 63 10-19

Ferretti F, Viotto Pedrosa B. Inventing critical development: A Brazilian geographer and his Northern networks. Trans Inst Br Geogr. 2018;00:1–15.

Melgaço L 2017 Thinking outside the bubble of the Global North: introducing Milton Santos and ‘the active role of geography’ Antipode 49 4 946–951.

Melgaço L & Prouse C Eds. 2017 Milton Santos: Pioneer in Geography. London: Springer.

Santos M 2017 Toward a new globalisation Springer, London.

Springer S 2016 The anarchist roots of geography Minnesota University Press, Minneapolis.

White R 2015 Following in the footsteps of Elisée Reclus: disturbing places of inter-species violence that are hidden in plain sight in Nocella II A, White R and Cudworth E eds. Anarchism and animal liberation, essays on complementary elements of total liberation Jefferson, Mc Farland & Company, 212-230.

Image credit:

Envelope of a letter from Milton and Marie-Hélène Santos to Anne Buttimer (1938-2017), likewise a cosmopolite and transnational scholar, UCD, School of Geography, Anne Buttimer Papers, folder Latin America.

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