Vol. 8 (2020): Democracy of places: actions and forms of community self-government
Science in action

Democracies in common places: stories from baldios and ‘fire-tales’ in Portugal

Rita Serra
Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra
Giovanni Allegretti
Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra

Published 2020-12-12


  • community forestry,
  • civic participation,
  • common lands,
  • wildfires,
  • decentralization

How to Cite

Serra, R., & Allegretti, G. (2020). Democracies in common places: stories from baldios and ‘fire-tales’ in Portugal. Scienze Del Territorio, 8. https://doi.org/10.13128/sdt-11790


We respond to Greta Thunberg’s call for democracy to protect, restore and fund forests by taking it to the commoner s’ assemblies of baldios – mountain community forests returned to the local people, in Portugal, in the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution. We highlight that when trees are considered as a technology to repair climate, they must be understood as a tool whose purpose is set by the people. By telling the tale of the afforestation of baldios, we show that trees can be harmful for local populations when their plantation disrupts local ways of being without providing alternatives, changing fire regimes. We argue the ontological transformation that results from the break-up of mutually constitutive relationships between the people and mountain places opened the way for ‘Faustian contracts’ – a loss of ‘the soul’ – by selling the long-term provision of goods to address short-term needs. When decentralization processes are captured by Faustian contracts, they can result in a battle of democracies, opposing participatory democracies to representative democracies of parishes and municipalities. Community forestry is then reframed as a struggle not so much about local control, but to gain back the soul and collectively set directions to face adversities.


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