Development Policies in the Brazilian Amazon: Balancing Local, Regional, National, and Transnational Perspectives

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 2:10 PM
Mile High Ballroom 4A (Colorado Convention Center)
Oliver J. Dinius, University of Mississippi
In the decade after World War II, Brazil’s federal government initiated a push for the development of the vast Amazon region, trying to integrate this sparsely populated and economically ‘backward’ region more firmly into the nation. The Amazon occupied about 60% of the national territory, which raised the question of scale for the development planners at the time and continues to raise questions today for the historian trying to study the development initiatives. For the development planners, the main issue was whether they should design a plan for the entire region or focus on localized initiatives. Was development understood as an effort to help the most people or aimed at developing the region’s economy in the aggregate?

For the historian, the question is whether the planners’ regional ambition or the more localized impact should serve as guide for the scale of the historical analysis. The lack of reliable data to assess the impact and the involvement of transnational actors further complicate the matter. The Amazon Valley Mission sent by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the early 1950s, for example, took a more localized approach in its nutrition program and a regional approach to its forestry work. International NGOs active since the 1980s focus on the entire Amazon Basin as an ecosystem.

This presentation thus reflects on approaches for the historians to take account of the different possible geographical scales to study development policies and their effects. The cross-disciplinary nature of such a study also requires dealing with different preferences for the scale of analysis in different fields. Anthropologists generally prefer a local scale, conservation biologists think in terms of meaningful ecological zones, and economists gravitate towards aggregate indicators by state or region.