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In important respects, the disciplinary field of “tropical geography” is a uniquely French field of study, and Pierre Gourou is conventionally seen as its founder and doyen. Yet Gourou did not see himself as the creator of a new paradigm or research school, and geographers were generally more influenced by his writings than by his teaching or any personal connection. With particular reference to French geographical research in and on tropical Africa during the second half of the twentieth century, it is suggested that the development of tropical geography as a subfield - and tropicalism as a research orientation - can be put down to a variety of factors and circumstances. Geographical research on Africa was pivotal, as was the rise to prominence in French research institutes of some of Gourou's disciples. But African academics also played a part, as did criticism of tropical geography for its marginalisation of issues of development and geopolitics. The paper examines this postwar intellectual history and attempts to draw from it a positive and forward looking legacy - a reinvigorated and interdisciplinary “tropicalism”, the main axis of which would be the analysis of the specific characteristics of tropical ecology, and its use and transformation by the societies that live from it. Such a project may help us to confront the contemporary world ecological crisis, and forge critical research projects on globalisation (altermondialisme) that can discern and deal with the complex local-global, and rural-urban, articulations of this phenomenon.
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Keywords: Pierre Gourou; civilisations; development; rural geography; tropical Africa; tropicalism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Laboratoire Géotropiques, Université de Paris X-Nanterre, Paris, France, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 01 November 2005

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