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Indigenous geographies: roots, developments and perspectives in the french-speaking universe – INDIGEO

Indigenous Geographies: Roots, Developments and Perspectives in the Francophone Universe

By focusing on the formation of a specific research field concerning indigenous geographies, this project aims both to assess the interest of a geographical approach of indigeneity, and to identify how the study of indigenous territorial dynamics may contribute to social sciences in general, and geography in particular.

Enhancing the interest for a geographical approach of indigeneity

The INDIGEO project engages an epistemological reflection on the formation of indigenous geographies, defined as a field of research interested in the different territorial configurations arising from the spatial manifestations of Indigenous peoples and their identities. In France, despite the increasing number of young geographers interested in indigeneity, there is no specific research institution in charge of leading and promoting the development of indigenous geographies. Such an absence, in a way, contributes to the invisibilisation of Indigenous peoples in the French national context (in its overseas possessions), and leads to erroneouslly believe that France is not concerned with indigeneity. Otherwise, to this day, no global epistemological research on the origins and modalities of formation of this research field has been led, which does not allow to systematise and highlight the potential contribution of a geographical approach of indigeneity. This is precisely the challenge with which the INDIGEO project is dealing. The aim of this project is both to assess the interest of a geographical approach of indigeneity, and to identify how the study of indigenous territorial dynamics may contribute to social sciences in general, and geography in particular. In addition to give a restrospective overview of the geographical production on indigenous issues, and to estimate more specifically the development of this production in the francophone geography, this research aims to highlight the geographical implications of indigeneity through fieldwork experiences in the French overseas territories.

The INDIGEO project is based on three complementary main Tasks. The first Task, entitled « Genealogy of indigenous geographies », gives a global and restrospective overview of geographers interest for issues related to indigenous peoples worldwide. This reflection is grounded on a bibliographical research consisting in gathering and organising, in one single database, the whole articles published in scientific journals within the field of indigenous geographies. This first Task provides the general context for the second one: « Indigenous geographies in the francophone universe », which aims to precise the specific contribution of francophone geographers to the formation of indigenous geaographies as a field of research. This Task is thus partially embedded in the previous one with which it shares a same epistemological interest. In addition, interviews with francophone geographers conducting research on indigenous issues are planned. Finally, the third and last Task, called « The indigenous territorial issue in France », constitutes the empirical component of the project. This Task focuses on the diverse territorial issues linked to indigeneity in the French overseas possessions, more specifically in French Guiana and New Caledonia where fieldwork will be led. At the crossroads of historical geography, cultural geography and political geography, this Task aims to analyse the historical processes of colonisation, the diverse forms of indigenous territorial dispossession and the conflicts that have emerged from these situations. A reflection on the emergence of indigenous political movements in the French overseas possessions completes this research, along with an analysis of their claims and the responses given by the State to these claims.

The INDIGEO project aims to stimulate the interest for indigenous territorial issues in France, which is directly concerned with this question in its overseas possessions. Indeed, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and French Guiana are French territories where indigeneity cannot be avoided. The need to acknowledge and establish a field of research on indigenous geographies in France has therefore important practical implications. By reflecting on indigenous territorial issues, this project can contribute to inform the orientations of public policy in what refers to indigeneity. A final report, thought as an informative document with an aim to (re)define an indigenous policy aware of local populations realities and expectations, will be handed to the appropriate political institutions and indigenous representatives. In this sense, this project could be of significance for the living conditions of indigenous communities from the French overseas possessions. Through a quality fundamental research consistent with the social context to which it refers, the INDIGEO project wishes to make a contribution for the resolution of an important societal challenge. Its impact thus relies on both its innovative character and its potential applications which have concrete social and political implications.

The perspectives opened by the formation of indigenous geographies as a specific field of research have been subject to interesting debates in the Anglo-Saxon geography over the last two decades. Yet the same does not apply to francophone geography which, actually, has not paid much attention to indigenous issues despite the importance of their political and territorial implications. Apart from a few researches on how geographers have addressed indigenous issues in specific national and / or historical contexts, there has been no fundamental epistemological reflection on the origins and developments of indigenous geographies in the francophone universe. The INDIGEO project aims to fill this gap by opening a discussion on issues related to the relations that geographers have established historically with indigenous peoples. It is hoped that this research will be able both to strengthen the formation and acknowledgement of an emerging field of research on indigenous geographies in the French geography, and to connect it to existing debates in other regions of the world. Otherwise, the exploration and deconstruction of the historical relations that geography and geographers have established with indigeneity and indigenous peoples will lead to discuss the founding principles of the geographical discipline, as well as its implications with regard to colonisation processes, colonialism and the formation of colonial empires. More than only contributing to the history of geography and spatial knowledges, these reflections may also help to decolonise geographers research practices in fieldwork experiences involving indigenous peoples.

In addition to deliverables such as scientific articles and book chapters, the development and publication of an online website on indigenous geographies is planned. This website, which effects are expected in the long term, will aim both to identify the publications and research projects related to indigenous geographies, and to support the development of indigenous geographies through the diffusion of specific informations and appropriate calls for contribution. As a key tool for geographical research on indigeneity, in France and at an international level, the INDIGEO website will contribute to make the research on indigenous geographies more accessible for the whole scientific community, the civil society in general, and for Indigenous peoples in particular. The advantage of such a deliverable is twofold: first, its flexibility, which allows the regular updating of the database during and beyond the execution period of the project; then, its simultaneous accessibility in different languages and beyond every specific national context. Finally, the organisation of an international multidisciplinary conference on indigenous territorial issues in the French overseas possessions has also been planned at the end of the project execution period.

This project is grounded on both a research on the geographical implications of indigeneity and the formation of a specific field of research on indigenous territorial issues in geography. On the one hand, it aims to investigate the interest of a geographical approach of indigenous-related issues; on the other hand, it plans to stress the significance of indigenous territorial dynamics for geographical knowledge. The project will emphasize the emergence and developments of this specific field of research by studying its bases, trends, and articulations. Key questions will consist in asking where, since when and how geographers study and analyse indigeneity, and what does such a contribution mean to geography. The project builds on the hypothesis that the increasing interest on indigeneity araising from the scientific community -and geographers in particular- began in the 1970s, within the context of emergence of both local and international indigenous peoples’ movements. Echoing these mobilisations, and more precisely the territorial dimension of indigenous claims, a growing number of geographers developed different perspectives of research on indigenous-related topics, giving progressively rise to a specific field of research. Since it was strongly shaped and influenced by diverse disciplinary approaches and traditions, this field was not identified as such for a long time. Furthermore, it relies on an unequal interest and production depending on academic and national contexts. In France, in particular, despite the increasing interest for indigeneity by a younger generation of geographers, there is no formal space of discussion able to lead, foster and guide the development of indigenous geographies. Moreover, the lack of background and epistemological research on the origins and developments of this specific field of the discipline did not allow to recognize the value and significance of a geographical approach of indigeneity. This is precisely the challenge addressed by this research which aims to fill the theoretical gap and advance the understanding of this critical subject matter, but equally importantly to position France in an relevant scientific debate in order to increase its international influence. Three successive and complementary tasks structure this proposal which is theoretically framed at the crossroads of cultural, political and historical approaches in geography. First task will draw up a global report of the interest of geographers for territorial issues related to indigenous peoples worldwide, thus providing the framework for the second task which will aim at precising the specific contribution of French-speaking geographers to the rise of indigenous geographies. In this sense, first and second tasks will share a common epistemological interest about the emergence of this specific field of research. Finally, the third task will constitute the empirical part of the project by focusing on the concrete implications of, and the usefulness of geography with respect to, indigenous territorial claims in the French Overseas Territories. By this way, the proposed reflection on the geographical implications of indigeneity aims at contributing to the definition of a framework for concrete political action in both the respect and the satisfaction of indigenous peoples’ expectations.

Project coordination

Bastien SEPULVEDA (Territoires, Villes, Environnement et Sociétés)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


TVES Territoires, Villes, Environnement et Sociétés

Help of the ANR 379,057 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 48 Months

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