Accepted paper:

Idealized landscapes in the making of socio-environmental contention


Pedro Gabriel Silva (University of TrĂ¡s-os-Montes e Alto Douro/CETRAD)

Paper short abstract:

The paper presents a case where the social memory of past environmental depredation framed a process of landscape idealization meant to strengthen the arguments of smallholder peasants against a mining company in a socio-environmental conflict occurred in the Portuguese inland between 1974 and 1980.

Paper long abstract:

Considering landscape not just as mere representation detached from the environmental context that it is supposed to stand for, but as a socio-historical process deeply embedded in an engagement between humans and their surroundings, I mean to discuss some of the vectors that turn landscape into: a) a socio-historical process; b) an instrumental dimension used by individuals in the course of environmental conflicts. In view of that, can social movements make use landscape - as a socially and historically rooted category - incorporating it amidst the trends of social conflicts? The present paper discusses this question, focusing on the analysis of a conflict that opposed a group of smallholder peasants to a mining company in the Portuguese central inland following the 25th April 1974 Revolution. While fighting against the company's projected dredging of farming land, the opposing landowners recalled the environmental damages infringed by the multinational mining companies from 1912 until 1962. Challenging the mining company's pragmatism and rational argumentation, the local defiant peasants used environmental depredation and the pernicious effects of mining on landscape as symbolically charged argumentation against mining. In this sense, landscape surfaced in popular contentious rhetoric as an idealized pastoral meant to overstate the advantages of organic pre-industrial agriculture in opposition to the decadence and mayhem generated by mining. The conflict under scrutiny might add additional clues on how local collective resistance takes shape and how environmental issues, drawn from idealized landscape representations, take part in social protest, interleaving political, ideological and economic factors.

panel WMW10
Listening landscapes, speaking memories