"Anthropology of Conservation. A comparative approach to Genealogies and Development of Natural Parks in Spain"

Project funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation and the ERDF. GOBERPARK is composed of researchers from different Spanish universities (Universitat de València, Universidad Católica de Valencia, Universitat de Barcelona, Universidad Pablo de Olavide de Sevilla, Universidad de Sevilla and Universidade da Coruña) and EUROPARC. Also working in collaboration with Portuguese and Canadian research centres.

The designation of natural protected areas constitutes one of the main governmental strategies for the conservation of nature. The institutionalization of conservation in Spain in recent decades has mirrored the also notorious development of these policies worldwide. However, it has also coincided with the decentralization of the Spanish state and the constitution of autonomous regional governments (AR), which have became responsible for conservation policies. Natural parks, which rely on a management model that aims to make compatible the preservation of nature and certain human uses, have been one of their key instruments. They are currently the most broadly used instrument in conservation and cover the largest area; up to 8,5% of terrestrial lands in some regions. Nowadays, after four decades since the designation of the first natural parks in Spain, we are in a privileged position to analyse their development diachronically. This research proposal aims to evaluate this process from the perspective of Environmental Anthropology. The research seeks to carry out a comparative analysis between the different conservation logics that have been dominant in different ARs by looking at the particular case of natural parks. As environmental anthropologists, we approach conservation as a socioecological process. Together with the biological and ecological indicators that tend to monopolize environmental studies, other indicators such as economic dynamics, institutional governance or environmental understandings should also have a preeminent position in this kind of analysis. Rather frequent people-park conflicts or the influence of conservation in the development of tourism in parks are good evidence of the social dimension of conservation.

Comparison between case studies will permit us to identify the elements that have been influential in the development of conservation and to suggest future directions. The project will focus on three different autonomous regions (Catalonia, Andalusia and Valencian Community). This comparative study thus provides us with a representative sample of different forms of conservation management at regional level. Alongside traditional methods of anthropological research (participant observation and interviews), this proposal also includes the analysis of other sources (material for the park promotion, management instruments or sociodemographic statistics), as well as other less frequent research techniques (participatory workshops and focus groups).


To trace the genealogy of natural parks (NPs) in Spain through the comparative study of four different autonomous regions (ARs): Catalonia, Andalusia, Valencian Community and Galicia; and to observe the different elements at play, while identifying logics, agents and agencies to reconstruct the history of conservation policies
To identify different kinds of designation and implementation of NPs in each ARs, while looking at how nature protection is articulated, enacted and shaped in each territory vis-à-vis the conditions of production in each context (environmental, political, economic, social and cultural) and the imaginaries that structure them (i.e. different conceptualizations of nature, territory and human activity).
To specify the consequences of the implementation of NPs, looking at the effects for different uses, activities and their evolution - both inside and outside the parks and at different levels and sectors, as well as the dynamics of conflicts and synergies generated.
To study the environmental, social and economic effects of the designation of NPs, at different levels and by different sectors, by looking at the degree of consistency (or lack thereof) between discourses and inventories about ideas of nature, territory and human action in NPs and their surroundings, as well as the different social perceptions on these territories.



Our hypothesis is that the logics behind the implementation of PAs diverge and respond to different sociopolitical reasons that depend on the context, the involved agents and the local/global drivers, which eventually distance PAs from the ultimate goal of conservation.

In this way, the process of natural heritage making, or designation of PAs are the result of the social conditions of production, the political management of global trends at local level and the attitudes and practices of involved actors, resulting in different conservation models. All these factors influence directly the management and the expectations/representations of PAs, as well as the effects and consequences of their designation at different levels and involved sectors (trade-offs).