Seeing beyond the smoke: the political ecology of fire in Horta de Sant Joan (Catalonia)

Marien Gonzalez-Hidalgo, Giorgos Kallis Iago Otero

Seeing beyond the smoke: the political ecology of fire in Horta de Sant Joan (Catalonia)
Abstract:

Fires shed light. We revisit a tragic fire which occurred in southern Catalonia in 2009 to uncover tensions and frictions in the ways in which modern societies appreciate and reorganise their relations to nature, by looking at forests and fires in particular. Using a broadly defined political ecology approach, we identify four major contemporary collective discourses and associated visions that underpin humanity’s material relations to nature. Our case study shows how these coexist, antagonize, interact, and play out in practices concerning forest-fire prevention and response. The focus is on the emerging discourse of ‘resilience’. In it, nature is seen as socially produced. Resilience embraces and aspires to tinker with the turbulent and unpredictable character of nature.

Embodied in GRAF, Catalonia’s internationally renowned special fire-fighting unit, this vision faced its hour of judgment in the Horta de Sant Joan fire, when five GRAF firefighters tragically lost their lives. Although the tragedy opened an opportunity for learning, the political processes dealing with the tragedy failed to engage with the fundamental frictions underlying forests and fires. We raise doubts about the possibility for resilience in an increasingly depoliticised public sphere.

Key words: forests, wildfires, resilience, learning, depolitization, discourses