Insular political geography: the role of insularity on the governance of Guaitecas

Guaitecas, in the Aysén Region, is a municipality-archipelago in the middle of multiscalar political and economic forces. There, local political positions are taken considering both historical relationships with continental authorities and territorial identity. However, these positions are difficult to access for those who have not experienced those considerations. The project identifies these positions, the way in which they are generated at the local level, and their changes when they are taken to the regional and national context.

Project details

Duration: 2020-2023
Responsible researcher: Álvaro Román
Institution: Centre for Regional Development and Public Policies Studies, University of Los Lagos


Insularity is the result of a relationship between islanders and continental powers that is marked by both geography and history. On the one hand, the limits imposed by the sea as a natural barrier give way to a territorial identification that allows its inhabitants to define their place in the world from their geographical position, as well as to identify in other islanders their peers because, on the other hand, the islands have a trajectory marked by frustration and resentment towards the centers of power, usually State ones. Therefore, in order to understand them, it is necessary to address their political history, the way in which they participate in social and productive dynamics, and the milestones or events that have marked the perception of their inhabitants as part of an island community.

As small territories, islands are vulnerable to pressures that have forces that are difficult to contain. However, it is common for islands to adapt to new scenarios, and they have generated social practices that allow them some control over the intensity of these forces as they generate a political positioning that manifests complex contents, difficult to reduce to a single dimension and that in many cases lead to negotiations in a way that does not occur in other types of territories, regardless of how remote they are. But these forces can also overwhelm everything that is specific to the islands, thus losing the opportunity to take advantage of the knowledge and deliberative capacities in them.

Research problem

The research problem is focused on processes of political positioning with territorial specificity in insular areas. There, insularity imports complex and diverse factors that occur simultaneously, with effects on political and social practices. They are not directly accessible to those who do not inhabit an island, so their forms and contents tend to be excluded by external forces, either because of the small size of their territory or because their electoral capacity does not manage to transcend the terms of representative democracy.

The main objective is to understand the role of insularity in the definition of political positions from the commune of Guaitecas, in the region of Aysén. The specific objectives are: a) to characterize the factors that influence the adoption of political positions in Guaitecas; b) to identify Guaitecas’ insular political positions since 1990; c) to establish the way in which these insular political positions are generated and legitimized at the local level; and d) to distinguish the changes in insular policies as they are scaled up to the regional and national levels.


The case study of Guaitecas, a commune-archipelago of 1,843 inhabitants, with a logging past and a fishing and aquaculture present, is justified in that it is right in the middle of transforming processes of two forces: salmon farming, which in its process of expansion from Los Lagos region towards the South has in this archipelago a nodal point for the provision of services, and fishing, which strains the relations between artisanal fishermen due to the administrative division of the seas in the allocation of extraction quotas. The private sector and state agencies lead these processes on their own terms, while local deliberation and the way island positions are articulated do not seem to transcend the limits of the commune.

The research will employ qualitative research methods. Literature review will be the starting point for establishing preliminary analytical categories, through thematic analysis, and for guiding theoretical sampling. Semi-structured interviews will provide access to discourses that reveal the historicity and the way in which political positioning takes place in Guaitecas. Local spaces of deliberation will be accessed through participant observation, to contrast and recognize the specifics of the archipelago in its political positioning.

Expected results

Expected results are a better understanding of the role of insularity in local politics, to determine its impact on participation in public debate. It also aims to strengthen a line of collaborative work, where the production of results is continuously under scrutiny of informants and the community under study. In addition, it is hoped to document Guaitecas’ transformations, given the transformative trends it is experiencing.


Álvaro Román

Centre for Regional Development and Public Policies Studies (CEDER), University of Los Lagos

Lord Cochrane 1056, Osorno, Chile