Accepted Papers:

Ambivalent frontiers: spatial and political imaginaries in southern Belize  


Sophie Haines (University of Edinburgh)

Paper Short Abstract:

Land is dynamic and ambivalent in social, political and economic relations in southern Belize. Ancient, colonial and post-colonial histories and geographies intertwine as different actors negotiate political, socio-cultural and geographical frontiers in relation to development/infrastructure projects, land use and identity politics.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores some of the complex ideas and experiences relating to interactions of geography and history in rural southern Belize, where intertwining spatial and political imaginaries play into the negotiation and enactment of livelihoods strategies, socio-economic development, and identity politics. While far from 'essential' in a static, deterministic way, land plays many varied and often ambiguous roles in the unfurling of these discourses and practices.

Boundaries, settlements, and their histories are especially contentious in the context of local, national and international land rights claims. Formalization of borders often engenders conflict with perceptions of mythical, unbounded land; both are powerful tools in the politics of rights and identity. Jural discourses of land as quantifiable and bounded are utilised not only by state and commercial agents but also by some local stakeholders campaigning for land rights; concurrently state actors may employ mythic time and space to promote Belize as a Maya cultural area for the tourist market. Boundary negotiations and archaeological sites are thus potent loci of meanings and resources; the tangibility of the latter may present a fixing point for these apparently contradictory discourses. What opportunities for dialogue arise in these contested spaces?

Imagined and performed demarcations of 'communities', ethnic/linguistic groups, nation-states, crown land, communal land, leased land and private property create dynamic frontiers with important implications for land use and politics in the district. I propose an ecological model for political relations in this environment, which reflects the fluidity and complexity of spatial and temporal contexts.

panel P32
Imagining past and present landscapes