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Mountain forests in Mexico.

Doctoral defence of Violeta Gutiérrez Zamora, 27.1.2023: Recognizing the nuances of community forestry for strengthening environmental justice: Lessons from Mexico’s forest communities

The doctoral dissertation in the field of Environmental Policy will be examined at the faculty of Business and Social Sciences at Joensuu.

Violeta Gutiérrez Zamora's, M.Soc.Sc., doctoral research investigates the current challenges and nuances of community forestry in Mexico. In the last 40 years, Mexico has promoted community forestry as an alternative to forest management directed by the central government or private companies. As an alternative, community forestry is based on principles of social justice and environmental sustainability, aiming for communities to use forests for social and economic development while conserving them. Forest communities have created their own paths to achieve these objectives, like creating community forestry companies for wood and non-wood forest products. Based on ethnographic methods and documental analysis in the Sierra Sur of Oaxaca state, this research delves into the challenges, paradoxes and changes forest dwellers face when managing and working in their community forestry companies while conserving their forests. The thesis contributes to understanding how different environmental governing rationalities intersect when 1) socio-territorial conflicts arise, 2) women's access to productive labor is encouraged, and 3) the plural values of the forest are adapted.

The complexity of interactions between people and forests

For Gutiérrez Zamora, the critical question of her research is to understand how various environmental governing rationalities intertwine in community forestry to shape and regulate people's behavior and interactions with forests. Gutiérrez Zamora's dissertation explores the complexity involved in social relationships and human interactions with the forest. In this way, her research analyses the various mechanisms of power in which human actors have created and modified these relationships and interactions with forests as material, symbolic and political entities.

She argues that community forestry in Mexico is an arena and a fabric where peasant and indigenous communities re-appropriate forest management and display the various ways of relating to the forest. At the same time, the thesis discusses the ways in which community forestry enterprises are connected and in tension with neoliberal capitalism and patterns of colonial domination. For instance, one of the key results is that while the emergence of community forestry institutions is a means for forest communities to gain control over timber and non-timber forest products (NTFP), the perpetuation of socio-territorial conflicts does not guarantee such control. Likewise, the distribution and valuation of work in community forestry are intimately linked to local and national historical narratives and practices about class, race and gender classifications. These practices have generated inequalities between actors involved in community forestry (e.g., male and female community members, foresters, experts, and officials), that still affect access to decision-making, distribution of benefits and harms, and recognition.

Towards a broader view of environmental justice in forest policy

Current environmental governance in Mexico has produced a shift in responsibility from the state to local populations in timber production and forest conservation. Gutiérrez Zamora's research brings decolonial and feminist perspectives within the field of political ecology to challenge conventional notions of "community" in community forestry as a universal, homogeneous, and technical entity. The study examines the mechanisms of power reproduced in the daily life of forest communities. It is relevant to understanding the role of forest and development policy in perpetuating or changing people's interactions. One of the study's recommendations is to consider the plurality and conflicts between diverse actors to think about environmental justice more broadly, i.e., beyond economic efficiency and distribution to include issues of representation and recognition.

Gutiérrez Zamora built up the data for this research from participant observation, informal and unstructured conversations, in-depth semi-structured recorded interviews, and the collection of various public documents and institutional records. She conducted a total of nine months of ethnographic fieldwork in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2015, 2017, and 2019. The dissertation research was funded by the Academy of Finland (grant no. 265159 and 320236) and the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland.

The public examination of Gutiérrez Zamora's dissertation entitled Interweaving environmentalities in the heart of mountains:Community forestry in the Sierra Sur of Oaxaca, Mexico will take place on Friday 27 January 2023 at 12 noon at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies in the Metria Building, Hall M100, and will be live streamed. The Opponent in the public examination will be Professor Adrian Martin from the University of East Anglia and the custos will be Professor Irmeli Mustalahti from the University of Eastern Finland. The public examination will be in English.

For further information, please contact:

Violeta Gutiérrez Zamora, violeta.gutierrez.zamora(at)