Processes of Spatialization in the Americas

Configurations and Narratives

by Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez (Volume editor) Hannes Warnecke-Berger (Volume editor)
©2018 Conference proceedings 272 Pages
Open Access
Series: Interamericana, Volume 13


Where do the Americas begin, and where do they end? What is the relationship between the spatial constructions of «area» and «continent»? How were the Americas imagined by different actors in different historical periods, and how were these imaginations – as continent, nation, region – guided by changing agendas and priorities? This interdisciplinary volume addresses competing and conflicting configurations and narratives of spatialization in the context of globalization processes from the 19th century to the present.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Series Information
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Spatialization Processes in the Americas: Configurations and Narratives
  • Area Studies and the Americas
  • Producing Space: The Americas between Homogeneity and Heterogeneity
  • Regionalism and Regionalization in Latin America: Drivers and Obstacles
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 The Historical Development of Latin American Regionalism
  • 2.1 UNASUR
  • 2.2 ALBA
  • 2.3 CELAC
  • 2.4 Pacific Alliance
  • 3 Regionalism after the End of the ‘Left Wave’
  • 4 Latin American Regionalism: Explanatory Factors
  • 4.1 Divergent Development Strategies
  • 4.2 Traditional Concepts of Sovereignty
  • 4.3 Specifics of Regionalization in Latin America
  • 5 Conclusion
  • Storied Landscapes: Colonial and Transcultural Inscriptions of the Land
  • 1 Introduction
  • II
  • III
  • IV
  • V
  • Spatiality and Psyche: Surviving the Yukon in Jack London’s “Love of Life” and “To Build a Fire”
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 “Love of Life”: Helpless Supermen in the Land of Little Sticks
  • 3 “To Build a Fire”: Mind, Body, Death, and Xenogenesis
  • 4 Conclusion
  • Regional Homogeneity by Force or by Conviction? Central American Regionalism in a Long-Term Perspective
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Waves of Regional Homogeneity in Central America
  • 3 The Making of Regional Homogeneity
  • 3.1 Central American Federation
  • 3.2 The War of Independence—William Walker
  • 3.3 The Trinity of Regional Organizations—ODECA, MCCA, and CONDECA
  • 4 Central American Heterogeneity as the Rule
  • 4.1 Dissolution of the Central American Federation
  • 4.2 Regional Heterogeneity in the Long 19th Century
  • 4.3 The End of the Regional Trinity
  • 5 Conclusion
  • Configuring Space: Borders, Frontiers, and the Dialectics of Inclusion and Exclusion
  • Contestation, Hybridization, Criminalization: US-Mexican Borderland Vistas
  • Florida as a Hemispheric Region
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 John James Audubon: Claiming Florida as the Tropical Garden of the United States
  • 3 James Fenimore Cooper: The Florida Reef as a Site of Treason
  • 4 Joshua Giddings: Florida as a Space of Maroon Resistance
  • 5 Conclusion
  • Bordering through the Lens of Slavery and Abolition in the United States
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Borderlands and the Geopolitics of Freedom
  • 3 Narrating the Borders of Freedom and Slavery
  • 4 Mapping the Expansion of Slavery
  • 5 Conclusion
  • Americanization of Show Business? Shifting Territories of Theatrical Entertainment in North America at the Turn of the 20th Century
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 The Theatrical Scene in Montreal and Its Integration into North American Theatrical Circuits
  • 3 The “Burlesque Wars” and the Role of Montreal
  • 4 Conclusion
  • Transgressing Space: Globalization, Mobility, and Bordercrossings
  • Salvadoran Transnational Transgressions: Remittances, Rents, and the Struggle over Economic Space
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Rent and Economic Space
  • 3 Remittances-Led Spaces of Rent
  • 4 From Coffee to Remittances: El Salvador’s Economic Transgressions
  • 4.1 Stability of Remittances on the Macro Level
  • 4.2 Pro-Poor Distribution of Remittances
  • 4.3 Volatility of Remittances on the Micro Level
  • 5 Political Interventions across Borders: Appropriating Remittances
  • 6 The Struggle over Transnational Economic Space: A Conclusion
  • The Post–World War II Resettlement of European Refugees in Venezuela: A Twofold Translation of Migration
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 The Birth of an International Spatial Order of Migration after World War II
  • 3 The Translation of the European Refugee “Crisis” into a Motor for Venezuelan Nation Building
  • 3.1 Venezuela in the 1940s and 1950s
  • 3.2 Translating the Political “Portal of Globalization”
  • 4 The Translation of the Resettlement as a Social Space of Migration
  • 4.1 The Development of the Resettlement through Space and Time
  • 4.2 Analyzing the Social “Portal of Globalization”
  • 5 Conclusion
  • List of Figures and Tables

Notes on Contributors

Peter Birle, political scientist, heads the research department of the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut in Berlin and teaches at the FU Berlin. His research interests are Latin American foreign policies in comparative perspective, Regional Cooperation and Integration in Latin America, and knowledge production in and about Latin America.

Antje Dietze is senior researcher at the Collaborative Research Centre “Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition” and member of the Institute of Cultural Studies at Leipzig University. Her current research focuses on the history of entertainment industries in a transatlantic perspective.

Sebastian Huhn is senior researcher at the Chair for Modern History and Historical Migration Research at the University of Osnabrück. He is a member of the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies at the University of Osnabrück.

Gesa Mackenthun is Professor of American Studies at Rostock University. Her current research deals with nineteenth-century imperial travel and archaeology and the scientific constructions of American antiquity.

Megan Maruschke is senior researcher at the Collaborative Research Centre “Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition” and member of the Global and European Studies Institute at Leipzig University. Her research focuses on special economic zones during the second half of the 20th century and on the spatial transformation of the Americas at the time of decolonization and the French revolution.

Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez is Professor of American Studies and Minority Studies at Leipzig University. Her areas of research include Mexican American literature and culture, early American hemispheric studies, and the study of the US South in a circum-Caribbean context. Currently she is working within the Collaborative Research Centre “Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition” at Leipzig University on a project focusing on “Spatial Fictions: (Re)Imaginations of Nationality in the Southern and Western Peripheries of 19th Century America”.←7 | 8→

Thomas Plötze, political scientist, is junior researcher at the Chair of International Relations, Leipzig University. His research touches on the nexus of securitization and regional security cooperation since 1980s in Central America.

Josef Raab is Professor of North American Literature and Culture at the University of Duisburg-Essen. He served as Founding President of the International Association of Inter-American Studies from 2009 through 2018. Most recently he co-edited Spaces—Communities—Discourses: Charting Identity and Belonging in the Americas (2016).

Christoph A. Rass is Professor for Modern History and Historical Migration Research and member of the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies at the University of Osnabrück.

Hannes Warnecke-Berger is senior researcher at University of Kassel. His research interests are on political economy, development, violence, and migration. His empirical research focuses on Central America, West Africa and Southeast Asia.

Steffen Wöll is research fellow at the Collaborative Research Centre “Processes of Spatialization under the Global Condition” at Leipzig University. He is a PhD candidate working on “Globe, Region, and Periphery: The Spatialization of the American West in Nineteenth-Century US Literature.”←8 | 9→

Hannes Warnecke-Berger and Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez

Spatialization Processes in the Americas: Configurations and Narratives

Now, these parts of the earth have been more extensively explored and a fourth part has been discovered by Amerigo Vespucci (as will be set forth in what follows). Inasmuch as both Europe and Asia received their names from women, I see no reason why anyone should justly object to calling this part Amerige, i.e., the land of Amerigo, or America, after Amerigo, its discoverer, a man of great ability. (Waldseemüller 70)

At the beginning of the 16th century, the cosmographer Martin Waldseemüller and his colleague Matthias Ringmann both worked on their Cosmographiae Introductio. While they had never been to America, they had read extensively on the “discovery” of the New World, including Vespucci’s Mundus Novus, which was a bestseller at that time. By 1503, Vespucci had published a description of his voyage of 1501, and by 1529, it had already been distributed in 60 editions and translated into almost every European language (Hirsch 540). Based on Vespucci’s and other travel reports, Waldseemüller created his popular world map where for the first time in history the newly discovered territories were called America. By putting “America on a map” (Schwartz; see Dickson for a critical reflection), Waldseemüller invented America and gave the New World its name. America’s ‘newness’ was as much a European invention, of course, as the idea that it was ‘discovered’ (O’Gorman). The discourse of its discovery and newness nevertheless became one of the key foundational narratives of the Americas. As Gregory Rabasa has pointed out, the term ‘New World’ marked not only an imaginary geographic space but also “the constitution of the modern conception of the world that results from the exploration of the globe,” that is the exploration of new fields of inquiry (Rabasa 3).

However, from the very beginning, the Americas were contested. The first reason for this was that the name that Waldseemüller put on the map never gained consensus. In Spain, for example, the name ‘America’ was refused until the 18th century (Randles 53). Instead, the terms Indias Occidentales or simply Nueva España enjoyed much more popularity. The map makes another point ←9 | 10→clear. The naming and framing of the Americas was inevitably disconnected from the practices and experiences of the people living in or colonizing this part of the world. The name ‘America’ initially appeared on a map that Waldseemüller produced in Freiburg. It was not the invention of Vespucci or Columbus, and the reason why ‘America’ soon after Cosmographiae Introductio enjoyed such popularity, did not necessarily relate to the discovery itself.

A second cause why the Americas were contested was that this new land did not fit into the traditional European reasoning of Christianity. Medieval maps (so-called T-O maps or Beatus maps), such as the famous map published in the 7th century by Isidore of Seville in his Etymologiae that showed the apostolic dissemination of the Faith, depicted Jerusalem at the center of a circle, surrounded by three continents—Europe, Asia, and Africa. When Europe found itself confronted with the Americas, the question arose if all this land was part of the same oikoumene, if each part of this world was really part of the same world (and under the same God). Eventually, this question was resolved by the concept of terra continens and each part of the world progressively became accepted as a “continent” (Randles 53–54). The invention of America—forged in the process of European colonial history—implied the appropriation and integration of the continent into the Euro-Christian imaginary (Mignolo, The Idea 2–3).

Third, the discovery of the Americas led to a revolutionary shift in cartography (Padrón, The Spacious). Increasingly, the necessities of political and economic relationships with the New World challenged traditional mapmakers to adjust their products to the needs of sailors and captains. Paradoxically, however, Spain was the empire in which maps spread very late most notably in contrast to France and especially in contrast to England (Padrón, “Mapping” 55). As an effect of this cartographic revolution, an abstract and homogenous geometric space was born. This contributed to Newton’s path-breaking idea of absolute space, which “in its own nature, without regard to anything external, remains always similar and immovable” (Newton 46). As such “formal and quantitative, it erases distinctions,” acknowledged Henri Lefebvre powerfully in his critique of the production of space (Lefebvre 49). At the same time, this emerging cartographic abstract space mirrored new power ambitions of the forming European empires: it created the idea that space was something “over which systematic dominance was possible, and provided a powerful framework for political expansion and control” (Woodward 87). Indeed, the main interest of Europe in the New World was economic in nature. Between 1500 and 1650, Europe imported at least 180 tons of gold and 17,000 tons of silver, which in the last quarter of the 16th century constituted up to 85 % of the world’s silver production (Blaut 189). ←10 | 11→America had a vital impact in Europe, at least for balancing the traditional trade deficits with Asia.

Taking these issues together, the Americas were not only born as a linguistic and cartographic term or semiotic creation, but they were the effect of a dialectic between the practice and the knowledge construction of the colonized, the colonizers, and the imaginaries of European intellectuals. What America and the Americas actually are and for what they were taken are the products of both the social practices in as well as beyond the Americas and of the epistemological assumptions, foundational mythmaking, and narrations on and about the continent and the regions, countries, and people on it. However, this was an essentially unequal process. Colonization, (de)territorialization, destruction, and enculturation, as Padrón rightly affirms, “all of these things probably look the same to the colonized other, regardless of whether or not the colonizer has learned to think about space” (Padrón, “Mapping” 55). The formation of the discourse on the Americas reflects the power structures and geopolitics of knowledge from the perspective of coloniality (Mignolo, The Idea xi). It excludes the histories, experiences, and narratives of Indians and African slaves. As Mignolo observes, “After all, the Americas exist today only as a consequence of European colonial expansion and the narrative of that expansion from the European perspective, the perspective of modernity” (The Idea xi).

What are the Americas then? Whose Americas are we speaking of? Where do the Americas begin and where do they end? How were they constructed by different actors, and what were the priorities and objectives of these different constructions as continent, region, or nation? Which competing and conflicting narratives of spatialization can we observe in the past, which dynamics of exclusion and inclusion are reflected in these narratives, and how do contemporary discourses about the Americas as a construction relate to earlier narratives? These questions can be discussed on various levels, depending on our focus: do we look at the Americas as a particular, homogeneous entity or do we raise further theoretical issues? Such issues would be: how do we define space? How much homogeneity is needed to speak about one particular space (e.g. the Americas) in contrast to other spaces (e.g. Europe or Asia, but likewise Anglophone and Latin America)? How can we investigate this space and what are the appropriate methods? In turn, do we thus construct this supposedly homogenous space through our own focus and through the questions we ask at the beginning of each research? Finally, does the often-proposed way out of this dilemma, namely to look at anti-spaces, heterotopias, the monstrous other, at borders and frontiers, really resolve this problem of supposed homogeneity? What do we gain by looking at the fissures and dividing lines that fracture this ←11 | 12→homogeneity, at the margins and peripheries and interstitial spaces? This volume of essays addresses some of these questions. It has emerged from a workshop that was convened as part of the Collaborative Research Center “Spatialization Processes under the Global Condition” at the University of Leipzig in April 2017. The workshop was designed as a discussion on spatialization processes but also as an invitation to rethink different disciplinary traditions.

Area Studies and the Americas

The different questions and trajectories of talking, thinking, and theorizing about the Americas do not only reflect ontological differences inherent in the particular space “Americas” but mirror at the same time long-standing disciplinary divides. We took these divides as a starting point and invited scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds to Leipzig to further reflect on and discuss processes of spatialization in the Americas. The empirical background of American studies was traditionally the United States and Canada while Latin America formed a distinct research community, namely Latin American studies. Area studies are confronted with the same question that we post in this book: When is an area an area? What makes the Americas one, two, or numerous different areas? Who defines areas, and what guides such definitions?

Area studies in general and Latin American studies in particular are themselves confronted with a lack of certainty about their adequate research object, be it area in general, the Americas, or North/Latin America in particular. Moreover, area studies have undergone an ontological shift during the last decades. Originally, the motivation of area studies was to gain knowledge of certain areas in the world in an attempt to safeguard European colonial and later US-American national and neo-imperial interests in a global confrontation with communism, and eventually to forward the goals of ‘modernization and development’ as proposed by the Ethnogeographic Commission (Rowe, “Areas” 16). From the perspective of area studies, the United States was not considered an ‘area’ in the sense other areas such as East Asia, the Middle East or Latin America were, rather it was regarded, along with Canada, as ‘an extension of European Civilization’ (Rowe, “Areas” 14), following the assumption that knowledge production happened in the centers about those areas under study and their populations that were not seen as part of these centers.

While traditional social science disciplines have remained rather focused on the West, thereby constructing North America as well as Europe as homogenous spaces defined by democracy and market economy and as a normative to the direction in which the “rest” of the world should develop, they left area studies to ←12 | 13→research ‘the other’ part of the Americas. Consequently, social sciences integrated area studies based on the debates on development and development theory of the 1970s and 1980s (Schäbler 27). By the end of the Cold War, however, development theory lost serious ground. It was accused of rather blurring disciplinary terms and concepts. On the one hand, the distinction between “developed” and “under-developed” areas proved to remain rather unclear (Nuscheler). On the other hand, leading authors refused the unifying concept of the ‘Third World’ and therefore the common research object of the entire sub-discipline. Already back in 1985, Boeckh denied the general explanatory force of dependency approaches, which aimed to explain the phenomena of underdevelopment and dependency in the Third World (Boeckh). His main argument against general theories of development exposed the Third World as much too heterogeneous to fit into a single category. Eventually, with Menzel’s call to abandon the category of the Third World the ontological shift was achieved: ‘the’ Third World as a homogeneous space as well as a particular area would not exist and/or never existed (Menzel). Moreover and as an implication, the existence of particular but homogenous areas, which are to be investigated by development research and which share certain ontological similarities, is more than ever contested.

In American studies, beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, the assumptions of US exceptionalism came under critical scrutiny from within the discipline. The belief in the uniqueness of the United States on the continent, the claim of its superiority to and independence of other countries in the Americas, and the conviction of the absence of imperialism in American history were questioned, starting with the interventions of feminist and ethnic minority scholars who pointed out that large groups of American society as well as its social and ethnic diversity remained invisible and unstudied in the field. Decisive impulses for a methodological revision of the study of the United States came from the ‘New Americanists’ who investigated the imperial history of the United States and showed that from its early beginnings, like other colonialist nations, the United States were shaped by imperialism (Kaplan and Pease). They emphasized that the consideration of local conditions should be contextualized in a larger understanding of the United States in global comparative contexts. The New Americanists strove for an internationalization of the field, opening up the frame of perception and interpretation for existing but obscured connections, such as Southern California’s relation to Asia and Mexico, the Southeast’s relation to the ‘Black Atlantic,’ and Miami’s relations with Cuba, Haiti, and Latin America (Rowe, “Post-Nationalism” 30), as well as for an awareness that America is, as Brian T. Edwards and Dilip P. Gaonkar put it, a “node in the global circuit” (Edwards and Gaonkar 26).←13 | 14→

Latin American studies in contrast to American studies has always pointed to US imperialist tendencies. This critique of American exceptionalism increased with the rise of dependency theory, the Cuban Revolution, and with the shift in US foreign policy towards reintegrating Latin America into the US-dominated hemisphere with the Alliance for Progress in 1961. Thus, reflecting the dependent development, Latin American studies grew by focusing on the peculiarity of Latin America as a distinct region apart from dominating US America. Moreover, area studies experienced an epistemological shift. Initiated by Said’s critique of Orientalism (Said) and the rise of post-colonial (Bhabha, Spivak) and Latin American subaltern studies (Quijano, Dussel), area studies began to focus on the theoretical as well as practical construction of categories such as the ‘Third World’ or Latin America.

Many of these studies pointed out that these supposedly homogenous spaces do not exist on their own but rather reflect global Western thought and its implicit claim on global domination. The investigation of the history of colonialism and globalization (e.g. Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic, Atlantic history, diaspora studies, and the study of transnational migrant communities) revealed the assumption of ontological spatial homogeneity to be a Eurocentric fiction. Likewise, scholars such as Joseph Roach (“Circum-Atlantic performance”), Walter Mignolo (“Border Gnosis” [Mignolo, Local 13]), Gloria Anzaldúa (“Borderlands”), Aníbal Quijano (“coloniality of power”), and others started to rewrite the history of inter-American cultural contacts, employing paradigms that link the Americas in a framework transcending the concepts of “First” and “Third World” and highlighting the power asymmetries characterizing the relations between the different parts of the Americas. In this light, areas are by no means natural phenomena but portray the cartographic fragmentation by Eurocentric requirements, just as Waldseemüller actually did in his Cosmographiae Introductio. Concepts such as unitary nations, societies, or states would not allow for describing particular processes of social change outside Europe and North America.

Finally, these issues culminate in a disputable methodological claim. Following these argumentative lines, areas are either too heterogeneous and similarities between different areas are superficial, or they are themselves the product of discourses and legacies of Western colonialism. Hence, traditional comparative approaches do not make sense. The preferred methodological access to areas and to the Americas as a particular area consequently shifted towards the ideographic reconstruction of single cases and thick descriptions of particular events (Gibson-Graham). In contrast to traditional comparative perspectives, the reciprocal interactions and interferences, transfers, and cultural appropriations enjoy primary attention (Burke; Werner and Zimmermann; Espagne). The field ←14 | 15→of inter-American studies has focused on the study of previously unexplored aspects of the relatedness of the various parts of the Americas, examining the ways in which the different regions have throughout their history been economically, politically, and culturally entangled with each other, be it through the slave trade, be it through the United States’ nineteenth-century expansionist ventures in the Caribbean and Central America or its more recent military involvement in various Latin American countries. With this methodological claim, however, an entire epistemological position shifted in favor of post-positivist thinking, and in some regard, abandoned the strict (and perhaps too strict) methodological rigor.

Against this background, the volume combines three different perspectives on space and processes of spatialization in the Americas. A first group of authors reflects on the process of how spaces are produced and how they become visible in the first place. A second group of authors then addresses configurations of space in order to understand how, why, and where spaces are shaped, designed, and which form they take. Finally, a third group of authors discusses the transgression of space(s). These three layers of spatializations will be briefly discussed.

Producing Space: The Americas between Homogeneity and Heterogeneity

In Waldseemüller’s Cosmographiae Introductio the common criterion welding the Americas together was the name of its alleged developer, Amerigo Vespucci, and the simple fact that Waldseemüller perhaps thought that Vespucci discovered a single land mass. Today, this argument is hard to defend. What do Panama, Newfoundland, and Tierra del Fuego have in common? What defines the spatial core of the Americas? Does this space depend on historical (e.g. different colonial powers), economic (e.g. core vs. periphery), geostrategic (e.g. US-American backyard or Latin American autonomy), or religious (e.g. Catholicism vs. Protestantism) factors?

What do economics, politics, culture, languages, literatures, philosophy, religion, and histories tell us about the significance, the depth, and the duration of these spatializations in the Americas as well as about their frontiers and borders? How much similarity of all these different parts should be given or assumed to think of one singular space? How much difference and heterogeneity is still allowed to think of a singular space? How deep are divisions leading to the perception of diverging or even separated spaces?

The Americas are usually perceived as two subcontinents: North America and Latin America. However, this distinction is based on different typologies: while North America is defined geographically, it is the cultural heritage, ←15 | 16→and particularly the languages, that define Latin America. Both the geographical and the cultural perspective on their own do only partially solve the question what the Americas are: North America does not only contain the United States and Canada, but Mexico. Furthermore, Quebec is not part of the Anglophone North. This same problem arises looking at Latin America. Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic are usually treated as part of Latin America with some reason, but at the same time, geographically, these islands are part of the Caribbean. The distinction between North America and South America, again, ignores the Central American isthmus. Panama and Belize are both deviations of this geographical and culturalist distinction. The Spanish initially colonized Belize. However, the British fought Spain in the Caribbean and integrated today’s Belize as British Honduras into their empire.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2019 (January)
Space USA Latin America 19th century 20th century
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 269 pp., 6 fig. col., 3 fig. b/w, 2 tables

Biographical notes

Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez (Volume editor) Hannes Warnecke-Berger (Volume editor)

Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez is Professor of American Studies and Minority Studies at Leipzig University. Hannes Warnecke-Berger is a Political Scientist and currently Senior Researcher in the Collaborative Research Center «Spatialization Processes under the Global Condition» at Leipzig University.


Title: Processes of Spatialization in the Americas
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