Economic Adaptation and Social Resilience to State Intervention in the Spanish Common Forests (1855-1925)

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"In the light of more recent research, it seems that the disappearance of common rights in Europe during the last three centuries has been a more complex process than liberal economic theory has traditionally believed. In fact, without forgetting the advances of agrarian individualism and the consequent decrease of lands for collective use since the middle of the 18th century, it becomes evident today that privatisation was a highly heterogeneous phenomenon. So, for instance, the enclosures in England presented very different characteristics from the partitions undertaken in Austria and Prussia, from the privatisations of common forests in France, the disentailments in Portugal or the reallocations of woodlands in Sweden and Finland. "In Spain, the process of privatisation was not uniform either. In spite of the strong encouragement given to civil disentailment by liberal governments, not all regions reacted in the same manner to the measures of the State. In some places, liberal projects were strongly contested by the local communities and had to be abandoned or, in the best of the cases, redefined to suit local conditions. When privatisation could count on local support, the adopted model of agrarian growth not only depended on the physical characteristics of each territory, but also on the different formulae employed to adjudicate the collective surfaces in question (sale to the highest bidder, free distribution, perpetual leaseholds, occupations etc.). In those periods when the nationalisation of non-disentailed woodlands dominated, the forestry administration had to deal with the previous beneficiaries in order to apply forestry regulations. At the time, the restriction of collective utilisation led to the devastation of woodland by the local peasantry. But liberal agrarian reform did not always have to struggle with a rural environment characterised by the collective management of natural resources. Improved knowledge of the privatisation process in some Spanish regions has revealed not only that the market preceded the law on multiple occasions, but also, that in spite of it, communities enjoyed sufficient space for manoeuvre to interpret central directives to their own benefit. "The main objective of my paper is to measure the economic and social impact of State intervention in the common woodlands of Extremadura, an extensive region situated in the southwest part of Spain. The importance of forest area directly or indirectly administered by local communities in Extremadura in the middle of the 19th century endorses the choice of this region to test the various interpretations put forward in the debate regarding the economic and social functionality of common assets. The chronological delimitation (1855-1925), corresponds to the timeframe in which the presence of liberal State is most clearly felt from a legislative point of view: the Civil Disentailment Law of 1st May 1855 approved the individual appropriation of collective property and the Municipal Statute of 8th March 1924 finally paralysed the legal process of the privatisation of common patrimonies."
IASC, common pool resources--history, forest management--history, adaptation--economics, land tenure and use--history, privatization, resilience--history, governance and politics, legislation, property rights--history