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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A political ecology of conservation : peri-urban agriculture and urban water needs in Mexico City Heimo, Maija


This dissertation examines the cultural politics of conservation efforts in Mexico City, where in 2000, the city legislated a soil and water conservation plan in its rural areas. During 12-months of field work in the village of San Luis Tlaxialternalco 1 focused on how the conservation plan was to be established in the wetlands with chinampa agriculture, directly above one of the city's fresh water reservoirs. Political ecology research of conservation suggests that ecosystemic processes are intricately linked to economic and social processes on many scales. Post-structuralist analysis has complicated homogeneous and generalizing descriptions of social categories, politics of power, and the causality between socio-economic, political, cultural, and ecological factors. Research in political ecology emphasizes the diversity of actors and their subject positions and seeks to locate and understand the dynamics of power and agency within and outside formal institutions. I examined the negotiations of the conservation plan on three social scales and I looked at the intersecting axes of power and the knowledge of various actors, and how they inform conservation. On the scale of the state, a discursive analysis of the 'coloniality of power' of the conservation plan uncovers the city government's underlying assumptions about how the fanners' land use practices and social organization contribute to the conservation effort. I ask how do those assumptions define and condition chinampa farmers as 'Indian'? I conclude that in the conservation plan, colonially-based discourses constitute rural communities and agriculturalists in ways that subject them to the city's needs and interests, and exclude them from equal livelihood opportunities. In San Luis Tlaxialternalco I examined ideas of 'community' by documenting how the conservation plan affected local power relations. Analyzing the dynamics among chinampero farmers in their meetings, I exarnined the alliances in and the 'voice' of the village. I conclude that 'community' is a fluid and contested entity shaped by class, knowledge, and cultural values in unpredictable constellations. The tjaird scale of analysis concerns women's knowledge and voice, and examines ideas of silence as agency. In semi-structured interviews and participant observation in farmer women's everyday lives in San Luis I explored how they make decisions that affect the environment. The research shows that multiple constraints and opportunities, such as economic responsibilities, class, prestige, and patriarchy shape women's daily lives and direct their decisions to advance goals consistent with their values even when their decisions may undermine the long-term health of the environment they depend on. By looking at the micropolitics of conservation, my research provides cultural understanding of how at different scales decisions that affect ecology are made and how they are articulated through cultural idioms in the charged context of the conservation plan. The dissertation de-mystifies predominant representations of chinampas and chinamperos. It also complicates ideas of 'cornmirnity' and suggests that the analysis has to go beyond class and include values and knowledge. Further, I show that relevant ecological knowledge does not automatically lead to 'appropriate' action, and that silence can be a powerful tool that resists impositions and firrthers individual and community interests. Finally, the thesis suggests that political ecologists need to move away from equating power with action and activism within "progressive movements", and that conservation efforts need to have multiple goals and follow diverse strategies.

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