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(Re)-territorializing the Maya commons: Conservation complexities in highland Guatemala

Brian W Conz, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is the result of geographic research combining several years of study of Guatemalan culture, society, and history with approximately eight months of fieldwork. Through this work I have sought to explain the social and environmental transformations of Maya communal lands in the Guatemalan highlands over time, with special reference to one particular tract of communal lands and its partial incorporation as an inhabited park into the country's national system of protected areas. I draw on theoretical and methodological frameworks from the geographic sub-discipline political ecology in order to better understand the complex and contested terrain of environmental conservation in an indigenous people's homeland. The focus of the dissertation is a case study, grounded in local and regional history and geography, of the evolution of land tenure and management of the communal forests and grazing lands of the Sierra Madre in the county of Totonicapan. The communal lands of the K'iche' Maya people of Totonicapan have been widely acknowledged as some of the best protected in the Central American region. Yet the issues that confront land managers and those who depend on the commons for livelihood and sustenance have grown increasingly complicated, involving conflicts and shifting alliances between state management agencies, national and international nongovernmental organizations and local communities, and reflecting diverse perspectives on conservation and development. The creation of a protected area in the region in 1997 that encompassed part or all of nine major settlements and as many as 20,000 K'iche' inhabitants raised serious questions regarding the future, not only of Maya communal lands, but of the Maya of Guatemala in general given the interconnectedness of Maya identity and communal land tenure. Weaving together some of the diverse strands that inform the political ecology approach—especially environmental history, political economy, cultural ecology, and post-structuralism—I seek to represent the creation of the Regional Municipal Park Los Altos de San Miguel Totonicapan as the result of a complex intersection of local, regional, national and global forces, and by doing so, to contribute to discussions of the park's future that better reflect this complexity.

Subject Area

Geography|Social structure|Native American studies

Recommended Citation

Conz, Brian W, "(Re)-territorializing the Maya commons: Conservation complexities in highland Guatemala" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3337021.