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Issue Date: 19-Jul-2006
Journal: Proceedings of the Conference THE CULTURAL TURN IN GEOGRAPHY, 18-20th of September 2003 - Gorizia Campus
Part V: Economical Trends and Cultural Environmental Chances
Apparently, development, Southern Italy and cultural geography are not related to one
another. One could argue that tackling the issues of development and Italian Mezzogiorno, in
the context of cultural geography is not a proper argument.
Nevertheless, anything, someway or another, can be a cultural issue; precisely, the issues
connected with development and Southern Italy are certainly a 'cultural fact', which can be
approached in different ways depending on the culture and the ideology one advocates.
Therefore, these issues can perfectly fit the context of cultural geography; but before
getting to the heart of the argument I would like to quote a question I found about 40 years ago
in a book by Jean Poncet (Poncet, 1968 and 1970): “Is underdevelopment due entirely or
partly to natural factors?". Certainly there is a straightforward coincidence between the socalled
Third World countries and tropical and sub-tropical climate areas: only in a few cases
underdevelopment reaches countries in the temperate areas. As Poncet wondered, should we
believe that "the value of geographic determinism, which has been long rejected – and rightly
so – is the main cause for the explanation of human factors?". In other words, should we
believe that the underdevelopment of given countries is caused by climate, soil poverty,
shortage of water and other natural resources?
In order not to give simple deterministic interpretations and determine if
underdevelopment depends on natural factors, we should firstly explain why the countries that
today live in total technological, economic and social backwardness are those which were
identified in the past with the whole mankind.
Evidently, with this new historical element the answer is more complex and it cannot be
simply solved with deterministic interpretations.
In remote ages, tropical regions could be considered far more advanced than temperate
areas today. Rural and then urban civilizations appeared firstly in Middle East, India, China,
Andean and Central America: exactly the ones that are ruled by underdevelopment today.
Mediterranean countries, for example, have been the real 'cradle' of Western civilization:
Rome and Athens speak for themselves. But after the age of great discoveries, North-West
Europe's economic boost and spirit of enterprise totally cut those countries out. As Pierre
George (George, 1968) wrote, "they became lands of archaisms, both in Europe (Spain,
Italian Mezzogiorno, Southern Balkan Peninsula), on Western Asian coast, and in Maghreb".
That is, when a mainly rural civilization has become industrial or industrialized, the 'needs'
have changed and the countries that were not able to meet them rapidly and efficiently have
gone to the forefront of economic and social development. So, underdevelopment is "defined
and acknowledged by the inability of its victims to exploit the natural environment in a
modern way and to live in the same environment in the same conditions as before" (Poncet).
Southern Italy is a valid example of what has just been mentioned: the Magna Graecia
whose people were not able to exploit the natural environment in a different way; now they
cannot keep living in this environment as they did two thousand years ago, in a world that has
discovered a whole series of different ways of life and a range of different needs, either real or
fictitious ones.
ISBN: 88-8303-180-6
Rights: © Copyright 2003 Edizioni Università di Trieste - EUT
Appears in Collections:The cultural turn in geography

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