André Torre
Conflicts and governance processes
It is sometimes considered that resolutions to land use conflicts should systematically be sought because the latter are pathological from the social order point of view or reveal market and coordination failures. My research shows that they actually are forms of expression of the driving forces behind social relations, institutional dynamics and social and technological changes. Conflicts are good indicators of on-going evolutions and of territorial governance. They are revealing of social, technological and economical changes, of novelty and innovation; they are manifestations of an opposition to these changes, of the discussions concerning their implementation and their possible acceptability or non-acceptability, and the procedures of governance that are adopted and changed under the influence of these processes of change (Kirat & Torre, 2006, 2007, 2008).
My definition of land use and neighbourhood conflicts is based on three elements:
  • Commitment marks the distinction between tensions and conflicts. It implies a monetary or hedonic cost and takes the following forms:
    • Legal action (request for a tribunal to make a judgement);
    • Bringing the matter to the attention of the public authorities or of the civil service representatives;
    • Mediatisation (bringing the matter to the attention of the media, press, radio, television...);
    • Assault or verbal confrontation, Destruction of property or infrastructures
    • Putting up visible signals (signs forbidding access, fences and gates...)
  • The spatial dimension rests on two characteristics of conflicts:
    • They concern a physical good, occur between neighbours (entrepreneurs, farmers, residents...) and arise in relation to the use of material (land, water) or immaterial (air, in the case of pollution) support goods that are part of a particular location;
    • They have an institutional dimension in that they are determined by both the actions of local and supra-local authorities and by the rules they introduce (legal dimensions, regulations and involvement of institutions in local life).
  • The concreteness of the actions – carried out or anticipated – at the origin of the conflicts. The oppositions between people or groups of people refer to concrete objects, to on-going or future technical acts, and translate into concrete actions.
Conflicts, voice and proximity
Conflicts are often opportunities for individuals or groups of individuals that feel neglected by governance bodies or arbitrators to express their disapproval. Rather than leaving their territory and doing nothing, they choose to protest. It is the case, for instance, when a decision is made to build a classified facility, a waste treatment site, a highway ramp or wind turbines... or in situations of pollution or trespassing (Torre & Caron, 2005).
These conflicts are related to the constraint of geographical proximity (moving away is impossible or too expensive) and can be caused by three types of interference (Caron & Torre, 2006).
  • The juxtapositions: This is when two or several actors occupy a land and use or intend to use it for different purposes. For example, some of the occupants might wish to use the land for recreational activities whereas others might wish to use it for nature conservation or even development.
  • Contiguity: : In this case, individuals or groups of individuals located side by side disagree as to where the boundary between their respective territories lies.
  • Neighbourhood: This refers to situations in which the undesirable effects of an activity are diffused by air or water or under the effect of gravity (for example when certain materials are directed down a slope to a neighbour below), over to actors located in proximity (pollution externalities, effluent discharges, some practices of spreading or toxic emissions, or even noise pollution)
Conflicts and territorial development
The process of territorial governance is the fruit of permanent interaction between certain forces driving individuals to conflict and others driving them to cooperation;tensions and negotiations occur in various forms (controversies, disputes, discussions, groups of reflection…). This complex alchemy is at the basis of the evolution of the system and characterizes the forms taken by the process over time. It always presents two complementary facets - one conflictual and one cooperative - but their mutual importance varies depending on times and situations (Torre et al, 2006).
Tensions always arise during the process of regional development, at the heart of territorial governance bodies or institutions. At certain times, individuals or groups of individuals consider that it is in their interest to engage in conflict when their wishes or intentions with regard to the use of a piece of land, are insufficiently heeded or are not carried out. Tensions and conflicts, far from being exceptional situations, reveal contrasted evolutions in the relationships and agreements between actors and constitute particular stages in the governance process. A conflict is not an exceptional moment in time, or a radical break. On the contrary it is embedded in temporality and is the legacy or conclusion of past phases of exchange and opposition.
This conflictual process, when it occurs over a long period of time, seems to lead to the creation of new relations, new regulations and new forms of local organization. Therefore, one cannot dissociate the emergence of conflict from the analysis of the different forms it can take, nor should one assume that conflicts are systematically resolved; indeed some conflicts can last for a very long time.
The dynamic of conflicts
Tensions and conflicts often have long histories, made of conflictual peaks and periods of calm. Various situations can be distinguished:
  • The conflicts that are initiated by individuals or groups that have been excluded from the decision-making mechanism. Because they were not included in the negotiations, they initiate a conflict in order to make themselves heard and, possibly, to be invited to the negotiating table. .
  • The conflicts that mark the beginning of the process of territorial governance, as in the case of anticipated conflicts, characterized by engagements (mostly through legal action) preceding the course of the technical act;
  • The conflicts that flare up during the process of territorial governance. Tension develops gradually and accumulates, until one of the parties decide to engage into conflict;
  • The short-lived conflicts: For example, the legal action initiated by one party against another following the announcement or the construction of an infrastructure may result in one party being compensated - in which case both parties are satisfied – or may result in one of the parties abandoning the land to its opponent.
Methods of analysis
There is no ready-made database on conflicts. We therefore have had to build our own information base (Torre & Lefranc, 2006). My research team and I have chosen to build our database on conflicts using three different sources which all present some limitations and bias, but which, once combined, enable us to draw an inventory of and analyse the conflicts that occur in a selected area. Our sources are the following:
  • Surveys conducted by experts of local public institutions, nature users (hunting, fishing...), forest users, farmers, actors of the industrial and trade sectors, developers, State departments;
  • Reading and analysing of the regional daily press and of the regional issues of national newspapers;
  • Analysis of legal sources, through the study of the statistical data of the Administrative litigation courts and the civil and penal Courts.
André Torre
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