Macquarie University
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New environmental citizenship in Mexico: an exploration of Temacapulin's resistance to the Zapotillo Dam

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posted on 2022-03-28, 18:38 authored by Fabiola Figueroa Neri
This thesis is about the new forms of environmental citizenship emerging in Mexico as the state makes the political and economic transition from authoritarianism to neoliberal forms of democracy. An environmental movement emerged in the 1990s and created environmental institutions, regulations and policies. Thereafter environmental social movements arose around diverse environmental issues. One of those issues has been large dam projects and environmental conflicts around them. Theories of environmental citizenship have been framed by political science, based on the rights and duties of citizens who are members of a political unit, usually based on a democratic model. Empirical research has explored environmental citizenship in democratic and developed countries more than developing countries – where citizenship is shaped by different socio-economic processes. In Latin America, complex socio-political systems and different levels of democratic quality have shaped environmental citizenship. The contribution of this thesis is to research what environmental citizenship translates into in developing contexts, which are undergoing democratic transitions. It pursues, in particular, the case of Mexico which, despite the democratic advances of recent decades, still bears the historic imprint of its earlier authoritarianism. An innovative array of experimental methods is used to approach environmental citizenship in order to capture the complexity of the transition in Mexico. Temacapulín and the Zapotillo dam project are analysed at different levels and in different spaces, focusing on the federal constitution, government policies and institutions, civil society, communities, and within individual lives. The study indicates that environmental citizenship is emerging as political spaces open up in Mexico, yet these spaces are constrained by history and opportunity, reflecting quite different dimensions to how environmental citizenship is imagined in developed countries. The Zapotillo project is a dam to be built on the Verde River, in Jalisco. The dam would principally supply water to the cities of León and Guadalajara, and to a smaller extent to Los Altos, the region where the dam is located. The dam would displace three small Los Altos towns: Temacapulín (or Temaca), Acasico and Palmarejo. An environmental movement, led by the community of Temaca, has resisted being displaced for more than eight years and has organised a network of supporters from civil society. The environmental conflict produced by this resistance has obstructed the execution of the project and opened the possibility of its modification to avoid the flooding of the towns, or even the project’s cancellation. This case is analysed using data from the stakeholders in the conflict, i.e.federal government bureau in charge of the dam project, and leaders and participants of the resistance movement, members of the community and external supporters. Data was obtained in interviews with key actors, a participatory research appraisal in the community and a focus group session with external supporters. The data was complemented with documentary research of official documents (e.g. laws, publications, public documents, press conferences and press releases), public information, stakeholder publications and journalistic coverage of the case. Discourse analysis was applied to study the strategies of different actors and the types of environmental discourses that are being used to frame environmental conflicts around dams in Mexico.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter 1. The study of environmental citizenship in Latin America and post-authoritarian Mexico -- Chapter 2. The case of the Zapotillo dam and research methods -- Chapter 3. Constitutional discourse on the environment, water and citizenship -- Chapter 4. Acts and institutions of water in Mexico -- Chapter 5. Civil society and social movements -- Chapter 6. Community responses -- Chapter 7. Environmental citizens -- Chapter 8. Conclusions.


Bibliography: pages 301-326 "July 2015". "A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Geography and Planning, Faculty of Arts, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia".

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Geography and Planning

Department, Centre or School

Department of Geography and Planning

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Andrew McGregor

Additional Supervisor 1

Donna Houston


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1 online resource (326 pages) colour illustrations

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