Space in the Americas, Brest (France) November 4-5, 2010 (deadline March 31, 2010),

full name / name of organization: 
Institut des Amériques, Brest

Among the wide range of objects open to scrutiny, space is undoubtedly the most commonly studied by a number of sciences among the human and social sciences and the Earth and marine sciences, each claiming anteriority in its use of the concept.
Space, associated with the societies developing and relating to one another while living under its constraints, can be the subject of a historical, geographical, sociological, symbolical, political or physical approach. Last but not least, the analysis can focus on the temporalities at work in such concepts as mobility, scale, conservation, planning or protection. As regards the headword "Americas," it is at the crossroad of different geographical realities—the continent, geomorphological units,...—and political realities—states, smaller subdivisions, diverse alliances,...—but also of different economic, cultural, linguistic and of course social realities, as well as dreams, travels and myths. As this brief presentation implies, the possible approaches are numerous, and this richness of interpretation forms the interdisciplinary and transnational context of the international conference on "Space in the Americas." It is proposed by the Institut des Amériques, Pôle Ouest, Université de Brest, and aims at helping different fields intersect and different orientations converge on the theme of "space."

In the context of this call for papers, space can be defined as the ground for, the frame to, and also the volume itself of human activities. It is the conjunction of three characteristics: a physical reality—geomorphological and geoclimatic—, a cultural reality—civilizations, cultures and their interrelations—, and finally a reality that can best be described as relativistic or relational—through the interplay of the forces at work at the two other levels and also at the level of collective and individual action. In view of these remarks, we can infer that space, more than an object of study, should rather be considered a way to apprehend society, and we can set out the following principles. Space is real in its historical and economical dimensions—which bear weight on the activities of a given society. Space is also relational inasmuch as notions such as exchange, distance, interaction and mobility now take precedence over those of predisposition and predefinition which were formerly used to define the term. Finally, to understand it fully one has to take into account its material dimensions—its physical characteristics—, its ideal dimensions—representations, conceptions and ideologies—, and its immaterial dimensions—networks and fluxes. The conference will be the occasion to determine in what measure space, in all its dimensions, is singular in the Americas.

Such a theme invites approaches interconnecting several scientific and disciplinary fields. Geography can study the relations characterizing the life of human groups and the logic presiding over the way territories are organized, and use such concepts as situation, structure, network, etc.. To be pertinent, the analysis must bear upon a complex set of physical and human data and upon the way they interact. Today the organisation of space cannot be understood without the help of extremely elaborate tools, and especially Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The numerous applications of these systems considerably expand the range of spatial analysis, and the conference can be the occasion to present their latest developments in the Americas.

Urbanism and architecture studies can endeavour to show how design, planning and construction have over time shaped the distinct and singular realities of space in the Americas.

Cultural, literary and linguistic studies can focus on the symbolical dimensions of particular species of space, such as forests, mountains and deserts, or of particular regions—Patagonia, the American West, the Far North—, or mythical and founding notions such as that of the Frontier. In literary studies, America was a text and a space even before it was discovered, it was the text and the space of the Earthly Paradise, both a lost Eden and a Promised Land. Exploring America meant reading the text of this loss, and of this promise. Writing America, in the form of a lapidary poem or of the Great American Novel, meant and still means surveying this land, or looking for lines of flight. Thomas Jefferson, himself a surveyor, both wrote the Declaration of Independence, and thus traced on paper the dividing line between the past and the future of the nation, and physically inscribed on the territory the one-square-mile squares which materialized his agrarian and democratic ideal. American writers have all felt that the figure of utopia, a space without a locus, irremediably lost or forever delayed in its coming, was to haunt their text and their nation. An interrogation on space in America can try to show how each of these two tracks, that of the black line over the blank paper or that of the pioneer trail or motorway on the territory is sometimes the spectre, sometimes the annunciating angel, of the other.

Sociology can show what space means for different human groups, life cycles and everyday practices, in what ways space in the Americas is perceived, conceived and lived, and how these three dimensions participate in the social production of space through the interplay of social relations, including gender relations. Specialists in other fields of study can characterize rural, urban, littoral or maritime space, or the construction and operation of the political and administrative dimensions of space in the Americas.

All these different approaches converge on the way space is inhabited in the Americas. From a conceptual perspective, "inhabiting" refers to the different spatial practices and their evolution, organisation and composition, resulting from a series of individual and collective actions, which sometimes are organised and coordinated, and sometimes not. Inhabited space is a complex object, because it is the product of a number of interactions, between material, immaterial and human factors, and because both its evolution over time and the pinpointing of the different factors which contribute to shaping it are marked by uncertainty. In this interdisciplinary dimension and its stimulating incertitude lies the interest of the forthcoming exchange hosted by the Institut des Amériques, Pôle Ouest.

This conference will consider space as a way to apprehend societies in the Americas. Space will be analysed though the prism of human sciences and marine sciences, in the forms of social practices, structures, representations and the interactions between these different dimensions. Whether individual or collective—of course transnational papers are encouraged—, the papers should tackle the appropriation, the reading and the symbolism of space in one or several of the broad fields of study of the Institut des Amériques, Pôle Ouest: North America, Latin America, the Sea and the Environment.

Please submit an abstract of 1,500 to 3,000 signs, presenting objectives, field, methods and results (as applicable) by March 31, 2010 to
Authors will be notified of acceptance by May 31.
Texts of papers should be received by September 30, 2010. Texts will be 7 pages long, double-spaced and set in Times New Roman 12 pt. Papers will be 20 minutes long, with 10 minutes for questions.

Registration fee €40 (waived for students and the unemployed)

Organizing committee (Université de Brest)
Arlette Gautier (Atelier de Recherche Sociologique)
Nicolas Bernard (Géomer)
Gilles Chamerois (HCTI-CEIMA)
Georges-Henry Laffont (Institut de géoarchitecture)
Gérard Thouzeau (IUEM-LEMAR)

Scientific committee
Marie-Christine Agosto (HCTI-CEIMA, Université de Brest, France)
Miguel Avendano (Antofagasta University, Chile)
René-Paul Desse (Institut de géoarchitecture, Université de Brest, France)
Elsa Carrillo-Blouin (CRBC, Université de Brest, France)
Dalila Aranda Aldana (CINVESTAV, Mexico)
Marie-France Labrecque (Université Laval, Canada)
Maria del Carmen Villar (Mar del Plata University, Argentina)