Guest post by Christiane Fabíola Momm: Lessons from a peripheral country about how conferences influenced the development of a specific field of knowledge

In this post, Christiane Fabíola Momm discusses the role of conferences in the development of the Urban Planning research field in Brazil

Chris Momm Fig 1
Figure 1 – Number of ANPUR’s national meetings hosted in Brazil, 1986-2013 (Source: ANPUR, multiple years)

When I talk to people about my PhD research, everybody tends to ask me why I decided to study National Meetings in Urban and Regional Planning in Brazil. One of my answers is this: I was interested to learn what influences these national meetings may have had, their role in the production of knowledge on the territory, and how far these academic conferences could go (in terms of their spatial reach) since they were in the area of Urban and Regional Planning (URP) in Brazil. The other answer I offered was more related to the fact that my PhD was in the area of Regional Development, and my research aim was to analyse the development and spatial reach of academic conferences in the URP area in Brazil from 1986 to 2013; by doing this I hoped I could learn more deeply about scientific meetings (or academic conferences). I attended more conferences than ever (and not only in Brazil) (see also James Burford on conferences and doctoral experiences). As I stayed for one year living in the UK to do my doctoral sandwich-programme in the Department of Geography at Loughborough University, I has the opportunity to attend a few conferences in England and see how the scientific community in the area of Human Geography behaved, how established academic conferences can be, and how they reflect the development of a different field of knowledge. Following this experience, I anticipated that I might find similar insights  in an alternative international context such as Brazil, which has a ‘conference history’ much younger than many European countries.

My doctoral research was an interesting experience because I had to combine different fields of knowledge (sociology of science, geography of science and bibliometrics and scientometrics) to try to understand aspects of  the spatial reach of academic conferences in the area of URP in Brazil. To do my PhD research I also had to collect the information published on the Proceedings of the National Meeting of the National Association in Urban and Regional Planning Postgraduate and Research Programmes (ANPUR) in Brazil from 1986 to 2013. Once I had collected the data about author’s academic status, gender, how many papers they published in the conference series, the institutions they were representing, and places cited in their papers, I began the data analysis.

It is important to mention that the role of national scientific associations and societies have an important place in the construction of my research. Actually, the history of these institutions was an essential element. For instance, whilst places such as London in the UK and Paris in France founded their first scientific Societies (Royal Society of London – RSL and Académie des Sciences) in the beginning and in the middle of the 1660s, and RSL had one of its official big meetings in the following century (in 1778 the Summer Science Exhibition was held, organized by Joseph Banks at his residence in London, UK); Brazil only organized its first academic meeting in 1905 (Suppo, 2003). And it was not exactly a Brazilian meeting; it was the International Latin-America Congress in Science, which was hosted earlier in Argentina, and had its third meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

I know this is not a fair comparison due to the Brazilian colonization process and its history. But it is necessary to point out these aspects because it relates to the formation of the Brazilian scientific community. Initially, the Brazilian scientific community occupied the Southeast region and spread through Northeast, South, Centre-West and North regions of the country. Even being a biennial mobile conference (changing its place every two years) ANPUR’s first meetings were organized in the Southeast region of Brazil. The map below shows the number of meetings organized by region and the table demonstrates the years, states and regions where the conference series were hosted.

Figure 1 (see above) shows the major concentration of ANPUR’s conference series in the Southeast region of Brazil. The Southeast region is one of the most developed regions of the country due to its importance to the economy, and because colonization and educational institutions were more pronounced in that region (Schwartzman, 2001). The first Brazilian Scientific Society and the first Brazilian Scientific Association were founded in 1919 and in 1922, in Science and in the area of  Chemistry, respectively. One year after its founding moment, the Brazilian Scientific Association of Chemistry organized their first meeting, which was also held in Rio de Janeiro, in 1923. The historical aspects provided a solid argument to the analysis. My research findings showed that the Southeast region hosted a significant number of scientific meetings and not only meetings in URP area in Brazil. The table below presents which regions of the country hosted ANPUR meetings over the years, from 1986 to 2013.

Table 1 –  Places where ANPUR hosted meetings from 1986 to 2013.

Year State Region
1986 Rio de Janeiro Southeast
1987 Rio de Janeiro Southeast
1989 São Paulo Southeast
1991 Bahia Northeast
1993 Minas Gerais Southeast
1995 Federal District (Brazil Administrative Unit) Centre-West
1997 Pernambuco Northeast
1999 Rio Grande do Sul South
2001 Rio de Janeiro Southeast
2003 Minas Gerais Southeast
2005 Bahia Northeast
2007 Pará North
2009 Santa Catarina South
2011 Rio de Janeiro Southeast
2013 Pernambuco Northeast

Source: ANPUR, multiple years.

Before even being a mobile conference, ANPUR organized most meetings in central places such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte cities (Southeast region). This situation can be explained by the fact that (i) the Southeast was one of the first developed regions of the country; (ii) the first research institutions, colleges and universities and a large number of scientific associations and societies were founded first in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro cities, both of which are in that region; the scientific community always had a priority to remain close to its members and their institutions (Livingstone, 2013) and tried to organized all meetings as near as they could to central places with well-developed infrastructure (King, 1961; Garvey, 1979) in order to provide better academic mobility (Jöns, 2007) between members and their institutions.

This is just a small part of my PhD findings. My PhD research wasn’t only about combining different fields of knowledge to understand the historical and geographical processes based on a specific area (ANPUR’s conference series in Brazilian territory), or about “counting” how many times a conference was hosted in a specific place or how many authors published or influenced the area by taking part in urban and regional planning invisible college in Brazil. I really hope that future researchers, who have the opportunity to analyse an academic conference, notice that conferences are about people circulating and mobilising resources and other people during these meetings, creating new knowledge flows, and conferences are about sharing knowledge, improving networks and cooperating to develop and contribute to consolidate different fields of knowledge (see other Conference Inference posts on this last point, by Roma Smart Joseph, by Anita Perkins, and Barbara Grant).


Suppo, H. R. 2003.Ciência e relações internacionais – o congresso de 1905. Revista da SBHC, Rio de Janeiro, v.1, pp.6-20.

About Christiane Fabíola Momm

Dr Christiane Fabíola Momm is a temporary lecturer at Regional University of Blumenau – FURB, Blumenau and at Brazil. She holds a PhD in Regional Development, and an MSc in Information Science. She works on blended learning at Federal Institute of Santa Catarina – IFSC, Gaspar, Brazil and at Centro Universitário Leonardo da Vinci, Indaial, Brazil and also contributes to the SDG (by UN) project on Higher Education Programme for Regional Development (PROESDE/FURB). She is a member of the Technoscience research group at Regional University of Blumenau – FURB. She specialises in scientific knowledge production and in scientific communication. Christiane tweets @christifabi


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