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International research network on development, frontiers and the environment

An international initiative with particular interest in the advance of agricultural modernity in the Amazon region.

We are an international initiative involving several European and South American universities with interest in the advance of agricultural modernity in the Amazon region.

Our international research network involves academics, students, policy-makers and other non-academics committed to investigating emerging tensions, trends and legacies related to the advance of modernity through economic development and socio-ecological change.

The network is jointly managed by Cardiff University and the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT, Brazil) and its main goal is to contribute towards a better understanding 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 hybrid identities.

There is a clear responsibility of local and national governments, the international academic community and global civil society 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 groups of old and new residents (such as extractive communities, squatters, family farmers and indigenous tribes) in areas of agricultural frontier in the Amazon and beyond.

Taking those challenges into account, the network aims to connect up disconnected disciplinary discourses and disparate analytical approaches to culture, alterity and the history of agricultural frontiers. Through cross-disciplinary events and innovative research, the network engages diverse researchers and non-academics who work together to question the significance of development frontiers in the world today, and set the agenda for future work in the interlocking, interdisciplinary studies.

The network was established in 2015 and has a focus on what we describe as agro-cultural frontiers, that is, the recently established areas of intensive agriculture production where a diversity of social groups and economic sectors interact, collaborate and compete.

The departure point of the international network is the conceptualisation of agro-cultural frontiers as ‘geography in the making’ and a cultural melting point where national and global influences have led to uneven development and generated socio-political heterogeneity. The result is marked socio-economic exclusion and social and cultural hybridity, which is an increasingly relevant topic for scholars and practitioners, both in theoretical and empirical terms.

In that context, the network contributes as a gateway to novel explanations of historical, cultural, linguistic and religious dimensions of agricultural frontiers, which are spaces of dramatic socio-ecological transformation and where old traditions combine and clash with hyper-modern trends. The initiative also provides a framework for recommendations and guidance to governments and multilateral agencies on issues of social integration, cultural pluralism, sustainable development, gender, public participation and food sovereignty.


Through a range of research projects, publications and meetings, the network creates an innovative, interdisciplinary space to address the intensive cultural exchanges and historical transformation of the agricultural frontiers in the Amazon. The initiative stimulates critical thinking and creative insights by academics and non-academics into local knowledges, habits, language and subjectivities in the rapidly changing spatial order of agricultural frontiers under the influence of Western-like modernisation, development policies and market pressures. Its main objectives are:

  • Conduct theoretical and empirical investigation on frontiers of economic expansion and geopolitical disputes.
  • Investigate the historico-geographical particularities of imperial and national frontiers in South America.
  • Study the environmental and socio-economic dimensions of the process of frontier-making.
  • Understand physical and socio-cultural frontiers as integral elements of the modern world.

Network members are particularly interested in giving voice to non-academic groups (such as family and commercial farmers, rural workers, indigenous tribes, extractive communities and settlers in urban peripheries) to articulate their concerns over cultural changes and social integration and to incorporate their socio-spatial perspectives into the development of pathways to well-being and political inclusion.

Its continuous activities have fostered North-South, South-South and multi-actor long-term collaboration that facilitate joint investigation and raise recommendations to international development and national policy-making. The initiative will propose alternatives to the existing socio-economic trends and to the failures of politico-economic decision making.


Our network goes beyond prevailing paradigms on agricultural frontiers and socio-cultural changes in the Amazon.

Emerging identities in the region call for a better understanding of the socio-cultural and intersubjective uniqueness of agricultural frontiers in order to deal with economic, ecological and social dilemmas in search for a more sustainable development. Several bodies of literature point to the need for a renewed emphasis on the social issues that underlie sustainability in agri-food systems.

Emerging cultures and interpersonal subjectivities

The first academic stream recognises that culture is not as a homogeneous entity or a container comprehending either meanings or people (depending on one’s theoretical preference), but rather as an internally coherent collection of communicatory processes and resources that enable, constitute, and organise the sociality and socialisation of different groups of stakeholders. By conceiving culture from its margins, from liminal socialities, from hybridities and in-betweens (or, as it were, through frontier-thinking), the network contributes to the reflexive project of enlightening ourselves about – and thus relativize – its basic, often tacit, assumptions.

The agricultural frontier as a socio-ecological and dynamic territory

The second intellection pillar of the network is the politico-ecological significance of agri-food, which has come into sharp focus in recent years as major uncertainties exist around the sustainability of production and distribution systems, as well as a focus on issues of justice and equity of conventional agricultural systems. The political ecology of agri-food systems is a growing field of investigation, as it integrates different approaches for the study of economic development and environmental change, combining historico-geographical accounts with political and socio-cultural factors. Work done in the Amazon demonstrates that regional development and agriculture intensification trends are translated into values and practices at the local level, which affect political mobilisation and the ability of farmers to adopt technologies and respond to pressures.

Food Sovereignty

The network is directly inspired by the fast growing literature, based on trans-disciplinary theoretical and empirical work, on food sovereignty and environmental justice. In particular, the recognition of food sovereignty (i.e. the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food) as a socio-spatial relation, whose conceptualisation includes the rights of nations, peoples, regions and states to craft agrarian policy according to their culture and multiple values.

Meet the team

Academic staff


Workshop on Agriculture, Modernisation, Food Insecurity and Uneven Development: Focusing on the Amazon Region - Cardiff, 10-12 July 2017

The workshop aims to create and foster a vibrant partnership between academics and non-academics working on the interface between agriculture modernisation, food insecurity, agricultural frontiers and uneven development, particularly in the context of the Amazon and Latin America.

The event is particularly designed to explore now opportunities for joint academic and non-academic activities, including publications, research projects and engagement in wider debates. The workshop is open to anyone interested in those themes (including academics, graduate students, journalists, policy-makers and activists) and will be simultaneously transmitted via Webinar and/or teleconference to other colleagues unable to come to Cardiff, but willing to engage in the activities.

Guests and key participants will give a short presentation on their current work and engage fully with colleagues on the various activities during the workshop. The main language of the event is English, however participants will be able to use Portuguese or Spanish.


School of Geography and Planning

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