Contested place, nature, and sustainability: A critical anthropo -geography of biodiversity conservation in the “Zona Maya” of Quintana Roo, Mexico
Since the establishment of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve in the Zona Maya of Quintana Roo in 1986, the communities in the “buffer zone” of the reserve have been subjects of several initiatives to change or to alter their livelihood practices. These initiatives and programs come from a particular perspective that is not necessarily compatible with the local Maya worldview, and embodies a clash of viewpoints so characteristic of globalization and localizations. In addition to biodiversity conservation programs, the region is heavily influenced by the tourism boom from Cancún to Tulum. Today, the Mayas of central Quintana Roo are caught between the discourses and practices of tourism and biodiversity conservation both of which are transforming their everyday life. The consequences are not only economic and environmental, but also extend to issues of negotiating culture, identities, and ‘being Maya’ as well as of inclusion and exclusion of local indigenous communities within the Mexican national space.
The general aim of this dissertation research project is to make a multi-sited ethnography of Mexican environmentalism and conservation policies as well as conflicts over the management of natural resources in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve and the Zona Maya, in central Quintana Roo, Mexico, between Mayan communities (descendents of the rebels of the 19th century Caste War of Yucatan), local environmental NGO's, Mexican natural resource managers, and the United Nations Development Program. The use of what I call a critical anthropo-geography perspective is intended to highlight this work as mainly anthropological but with a focus on socio-spatial relations by incorporating insights from cultural geography. I assess how these actors, with different understandings of place, nature, and sustainability negotiate the future of the area through the implementation of biodiversity conservation projects that aim to provide alternative practices to maintain and manage the natural resources of the region specifically in regard to traditional milpa agriculture and hunting. The contestation of these meanings are key to understanding recent development of the Zona Maya. I also examine how Mayan notions of local knowledge of their environment through participant observation and surveys to assess how it changes as they incorporate or resist new conservation practices.
The purpose is to identify not only seemingly irresolvable conflict but also areas of consensus, while identifying factors that contribute to the discourse dynamics between these groups. In addition, I will examine how knowledge and ideas about place, nature, and sustainability are produced and reproduced. Finally, my research will assess the ‘impact’ of the biodiversity conservation projects on local populations with regards to ethnic, gender, and class relations and how they are included or excluded from the development process and how this process is contested by the local population.