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Origins of Scarcity: Labour and the Metabolism of Groundwater in the Doñana Socioecological System

Project description

Labour relations and groundwater metabolism

Spain’s Doñana National Park is a World Heritage Site and one of Europe’s most important nature preserves and bird habitats. The region is also one of the largest areas of strawberry cultivation worldwide. However, intensive farming is affecting the reproduction of this significant wetland system. The EU-funded ORIGINSOFSCARCITY project will study the interaction between aquifer depletion and mass farming in the Doñana wetlands by exploring the impact of intensive export-oriented agriculture on ecosystems. The project will target labour as a key issue where employment and groundwater conservation conflict. It will address the metabolism of water extractivism and shed new light on the resilience of growth imperatives and their environmental impacts by considering agricultural labour relations as environmental processes.


ORIGINSOFSCARCITY explores the dynamics underlying aquifer depletion through a focus on agricultural labour in export-oriented water intensive farming. Opening the black box of “human-induced environmental change”, the project addresses not only the uneven distribution of environmental harm, but the processes through which people become unequal participants in its production, thus furthering the integrated study of labour and ecological distribution conflicts. ORIGINSOFSCARCITY is a historical ethnography of groundwater depletion and the conflicts surrounding it. The dynamics underlying aquifer depletion are analyzed through the case of the Doñana Wetlands, a World Heritage Site and one of Europe’s most important nature reserves. Located in southwestern Spain, the Doñana National Park has figured prominently in the European environmental conservation agenda for more than half a century. The Doñana region is also one of the most important areas of strawberry farming in the world. The use of groundwater as a primary input in export-oriented strawberry farming is the main process affecting the reproduction of the largest wetland system in the European Union. Attempts to curtail agricultural water use for the purposes of environmental conservation have been portrayed as inimical to job creation and economic growth and more than two decades of administrative measures have not led to the stabilization of groundwater consumption. The project addresses the metabolism of water extractivism in Doñana by focusing on its neglected component: labour. It casts new light on the resilience of growth imperatives and their environmental consequences by showing the ways in which these are anchored by prevailing relations of production and reproduction. The analysis of agricultural labour relations as ecological processes opens a privileged window onto the articulation of social and environmental processes and advances ongoing conversations about overcoming nature-society dualisms.


Net EU contribution
€ 160 932,48
Gran via de les corts catalanes 585
08007 Barcelona

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Este Cataluña Barcelona
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00