1 Introduction

In recent decades, contemporary social science perspectives (critical, post-structural, and posthumanist) have highlighted the importance of how social, cultural, and environmental dynamics are conceptualized (Alaimo 2016; Barad 2007; Bennett 2010; Guillion 2018; Haraway 2016; Houser 2014; Nixon 2011), and how the rise of tourism associated with nature is interpreted. These perspectives help us to consider the effects of economic globalization, and associated processes of economic deregulation as dynamics dependent on the commodification of nature for their production, circulation, and consumption processes (Ávila-García 2016; Bustos and Prieto 2019; Núñez et al. 2014). These dynamics have led to increased national and international tourism investments, including in developing countries (Zoomers 2010). Under these logics, new processes of resignification and territorialization emerge, promoted by the State-Market, (Alessandri 2008), that affect tourism-nature relationships and the communities that host them.

Thus, while studies of land privatization have traditionally focused on large-scale land grabbing for consumption and resource exploitation, in recent decades, land grabbing has increasingly been associated with tourism and conservation practices, transforming non-capitalist spaces, and resources into commodities. In this context, sites of environmental relevance and global scientific interest have been reconceptualized and mutated as the new raw material of capitalist production linked to tourism and ecosystem services (Kelly 2011). For example, the process of green grabbing, where ecosystems are for sale, for current, future, and speculative uses, appears to be experiencing significant growth around the world (Fairhead et al. 2012). To a certain degree, the development of protected areas (PAs), nature reserves, and ecotourism can also be understood as forms of land grabbing and expropriation of natural spaces. Under the tutelage of international and national organizations, private individuals are buying large tracts of land for conservation and the development of “special interest tourism,” provoking the creation of full-service private nature reserves with the potential to generate high income (Rivera and Vallejos-Romero 2015; Holmes 2014).

Since the 1990s, there has been a constant buying and selling of land from former settlers to private individuals who are interested in this territory for its high natural value and biodiversity in Western Chilean Patagonia (Núñez et al. 2014). Properties located on the margins of protected ecosystems, natural attractions, or on the boundaries of State PAs are especially sought out. These changes in land use and occupation cause increasing anthropic pressures on sensitive natural spaces (Jorquera et al. 2017; Núñez et al. 2020). This trend can be linked to capitalist practices and green development discourse, which we propose represent a new form of conservation-oriented colonization, aimed at the protection of natural environments. Conservation colonization, such as this, involves not only physical land grabbing, but also the privatization of the rights of nature (Núñez et al. 2020; Corson and MacDonald 2012).

In this chapter, we describe these processes of land grabbing in Patagonia through two main foci: (1) the tensions between the environmental-tourist history of the place including the initial and recent colonization processes; and (2) the unequal ways in which tourism development has been understood as a process of nature commodification.

2 Study Area: Western Patagonia and the Exploradores Valley

Western Patagonia, and in particular the Aysén Region, is characterized by its extreme and isolated physical and cultural geographic conditions. The Aysén region has been exposed to different socio-cultural, economic-productive, environmental, and planetary interferences that have redefined recent processes of socio-territorial re-signification and transformation (Martinic 2005; Urbina 2013; Olea-Peñaloza et al. 2021). The region is a political, natural, touristic, and ecological frontier zone, constructed by diverse actors including pioneers, neo-settlers, and neo-ecologists (Bourlon 2020). These groups have different agendas that help to produce the social heterogeneity that we currently find in the area.

One catalyst of the current boom in tourism occurred during the 1970s when geopolitical strategies were developed to achieve decentralized development in the country. This led to policies and initiatives to integrate isolated and marginalized territories, promote occupation and connectivity, and to leverage the comparative advantages of the territories (Bustos 2014). Toward the end of the 1990s, processes of re-territorialization and resignification of nature began in the region, which became seen as a great reserve of potential use; an orientation that aligns with the neoliberal political-economic logics prevailing in the country. Thus, the strengthening of the image of nature as the wealth of the country promoted the protection and conservation of environmentally relevant spaces (Brigand et al. 2011; Nuñez et al. 2014, 2019).

It is important to consider that western Patagonia, according to official data, concentrates the largest amount of Natural Protected Areas (83% at the country level), with the Aysén Region being the most preserved in Chile (Chilean National Forestry Corporation 2020; Chilean Ministry of the Environment 2018). Since the 1990s, the Aysén Region, along with the association of the image-objective of life reserve, has experienced an increase in anthropic pressure, not only with a population growth of 292% between 1952 and 2017 (26,262 to 103,159 inhabitants), but also with the increase of floating population (9959 to 580,046 visitors between 1990 and 2017). The region stands out for having the largest number of companies in the tourism industry, and for generating the highest concentration of tourism sales (17.8%) at the regional level, with 5.8% of the region’s economic activity in accommodation and tourism services, exceeding the national percentage of 4.4% (Chilean National Tourism Service 2017, 2018, 2019).

In the last decade, the growing tourism activity linked to the nature experience and natural attractions can be understood as an important economic sector, which has been established in various parts of the region (Nuñez et al. 2019). Patagonia, therefore, is experiencing tourism sector growth (Flores and Martínez 2020), especially in the area of special interests. Among the popular destinations are Lake General Carrera, the Northern Ice Field, Caleta Tortel, and the national parks Queulat, San Rafael, and the recently inaugurated Patagonia Park.

However, nature tourism activity actually began in the early decades of the twentieth century, as evidenced by tourism magazines and postcards from the 1930s (Flores and Martinez 2020) (see Figs. 5.1 and 5.2). Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Western Patagonia was intended to be part of the most exclusive natural tourist destinations. This tourism vision centered around the desire to be able to contemplate and feel elements of nature, which were aesthetically and conventionally defined as beautiful and inspiring. Further evidence of this vision were the intentions of the State to build a hotel and airstrip on the shores of San Rafael Lagoon (Fig. 5.3), along with other State-supported actions from the private sector such as the introduction of salmonid species and development of sport fishing as a tourist activity (Camus and Jaksic 2009). The latter today remains one of the main factors of change and impact on freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems within the region (Reid et al. 2021). The contradiction is that the elite activity of sport fishing is one of the main tourism resources, promoting an image associated with the pristine nature of Patagonia.

Fig. 5.1
A photo of a postcard with a mountain range and glaciers in Chile.

1939 tourist postcard of San Rafael Lagoon and Glacier. (Mora Ferraz 1889–1958a)

Fig. 5.2
A photo of a postcard with the picture of Isla de Marmol in Lagi, Buenos Aires.

Photo of an antique postcard of the Isla de Mármol from the personal collection of Daniel Buck. (Published by Roberto Rosauer, Buenos Aires (ca 1905), photo by Clemente Onelli)

Fig. 5.3
A photo of a postcard with a picture of a mountain range and glacier in Chile.

1930 tourist postcard of Glacier and San Rafael Lagoon. (Mora Ferraz 1889–1958b)

The Exploradores Valley, with its proximity to the San Rafael Lagoon Biosphere Reserve and National Park, has acquired national and international relevance. The valley’s accessibility, together with unique landscape features such as the Northern Ice Field, and the presence of large extensions of temperate rainforest have been essential for transforming it into a hub of tourism development. These conditions have consequently brought increasing anthropic pressures. The latter is evidenced by the increase of tourist visits to San Rafael Lagoon National Park in the last decade, with 187 visitors in 2010, compared to 8222 visitors in 2018 (Chilean National Forestry Corporation 2018).

To further explore the impact of normative notions of nature and culture in the production of narratives about western Patagonia, we (re)analyzed various data from official secondary sources at the regional level. We aimed to identify the trajectory and development of tourism, and forms of territorial transformation over time, with an emphasis on infrastructure for tourism development. We sought to understand both the tourism phenomenon itself and the construction of narratives associated with the activity. Our process included a case study designed to understand tourist behavior in the Exploradores Valley. Our analysis was supported by geographic information systems (GIS) and included spatial data related to land ownership, as well as urban and rural infrastructure linked to tourism and the transformation. Our process allowed visualization of the changes that have occurred in recent years within the study area.

Finally, our mixed comparative analysis helped us understand the construction of the tourism process, including how tourism information is constructed and what elements stand out. In this way, we seek to stress the practices of information production, as well as how tourism is studied, and we consider how the approach could be improved in the Exploradores Valley.

3 Tourism in the Exploradores Valley: Local History of a Global Trajectory

Patagonia has become a global tourist destination (Blair et al. 2019). In this sense, we are faced with a development that is part of a global industry and whose effect in each territory is accompanied by local processes. In addition, tourism in Patagonia falls into the category of special interests, because its main attractions are its landscapes and activities associated with magnificent natural scenery (Rovira and Quintana-Becerra 2019).

The trajectory of western Patagonian tourism, therefore, is associated with it being a remote and pristine territory, full of adventures, and offering the possibility of seeing something exclusive. The last decades of the century, pushed by a shift toward postmaterial values together with the emergence of a greater sensitivity toward the ecological crisis, have promoted natural destinations, which despite the difficulty of access, attracted the attention of specific groups of society (Rojek and Urry 1997). The turn to this type of tourism is a reaction to mass tourism growth throughout the twentieth century. This is due in part to advances in transportation and communication, along with real estate development. These allowed for tourism development in areas of modest income and upended traditional mass tourism that was concentrated mainly in beach destinations (Zuelow 2016; Cañada and Murray 2019). This summarized history has its own version in the Exploradores Valley. The result of what we see today is part of different stages of historical occupation, beginning with modern colonization in the first half of the twentieth century. After the failure of the exploitation companies in the Aysén region (Harambour 2017), the territory was temporarily left out of public expansion policies, initiating a process based on individual land occupation initiatives. In this way, valley-by-valley settlers who initially dedicated themselves to cattle ranching began to occupy the region (Millar 2017). Various means were used to clear the land, with fires being a prominent approach whose mark is seen to this day. The Exploradores Valley had a late occupation in relation even to Patagonia itself.

In parallel, exploration trips were undertaken in these territories in order to assess the possibilities of an effective expansion of the Chilean State, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century (Bello 2017). One of the most relevant has been that of Hans Steffen, who in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, established a route through the confines of Patagonia, visiting places that did not have a first-sourced record. Likewise, along the coast, there was a greater flow of trips since the passage through Cape Horn had been used for quite some time and the knowledge of the steep coast was key both for navigation and for the marine fauna that existed at the time. In the case of the Exploradores Valley, the mission was entrusted to Augusto Grosse, an official of the Ministry of Public Works, who in the first attempt entered by sea, and second starting from Lake General Carrera. In 1946 he succeeded in opening a route to make the entry of new inhabitants more efficient (Grosse 1955, 1986).

These two processes occurred simultaneously and are the foundations of modern occupation in the valley. Both are the basis of a definitive settlement in the area, which allowed, among other things, recognition of the attractions of the area, as well as the establishment of possible routes to be followed by visitors. Gradually, the valley became better known and more visited by people other than residents or those who wanted to claim a site. Colonization and the search for a road were key initial forces for tourism development as a modern phenomenon, which requires both elements: attractions and known routes.

However, the initial stage of tourism development was through the coastal zone. The marine approach to the region was the most recognized and understood. In an attempt to search for Chilean Switzerland, an effort to develop tourism similar to that in the Alps began in the area of Lake Villarrica (Flores and Martínez, 2020). The first attraction was the San Rafael Lagoon (see Fig. 5.3), which offers an imposing natural setting with a glacier named the same as part of the Northern Ice Field. Here, two simultaneous ideas converged for the Chilean State, which sought to exercise sovereignty in these territories: the opening of a canal in the Ofqui isthmus (which falls into the San Rafael lagoon), and the installation of a hotel and airstrip in 1940. The canal sought to be an outlet for the products of the inhabitants of Lake General Carrera (Lake Buenos Aires) by connecting the coast of Aysén through the fjords (Martinic 2013), the Exploradores Valley, and the interior of Aysén with the coast. For its part, the hotel sought to attract tourists to stay in the area (see Fig. 5.4). The hotel was developed in relation to a maritime route that would be the extension of the railroad since land access was very difficult at the time. The only way that existed until then was a fleet of steamships leaving from Puerto Montt, which were the “maritime fleet” of the Empresa de Ferrocarriles del Estado (Rosetti 2018). However, this hotel began to be designed and built in 1939 but was short-lived, as the project was abandoned after the canal work was stopped.

Fig. 5.4
A photo of a lady standing in the foreground among a few bushes. There is a building under construction in the background.

Hotel under construction in San Rafael Lagoon. (Durand 1941, p. 60)

The construction of the Carretera Austral (Southern Highway) opened the possibility of traveling through Patagonia by land. The Carretera Austral connects Aysén in its interior but also puts the region in contact with other areas of the country (Urrutia 2020). The road redesigns the old routes used by the population of the area. The arrival of the highway meant a rearticulation of the routes in the Aysén area. It also coincided with other processes, such as the opening to international markets and the consolidation of an economic model that sought to diversify the region’s economic activities. The stage was set for tourist activity that valued natural attractions such as Lake General Carrera, the various National Parks, Ice Fields, and communities such as Caleta Tortel or Chile Chico.

The road connected the regional capital and airport with Lake General Carrera, which had been the region’s gateway since Grosse sought to connect the region via the sea. The town of Puerto Río Tranquilo gradually became an obligatory point of interest along the Aysén route, as it was a stop for those who wanted to continue south, mainly to reach Cochrane and Caleta Tortel. This early stage of tourism development attracted mostly adventurous people, who sought access to those spaces little known until then.

Puerto Río Tranquilo became a key gateway community for visits to the Marble Cathedral and Chapel (Bachmann-Vargas and van Koppen 2020). The presence of these marble structures became well known, due to the scenic beauty they represented. The old mining activity in the area had developed a transport circuit of people and goods across Lake General Carrera, connecting the different ports. The commune of Puerto Río Tranquilo had been one of the food producers in the area, from the first settlers’ livestock and agriculture on the shores of the lake.

In this way, a re-signification of a previous productive activity (transportation and commerce linked to mining and agricultural activities), emerged in the service of tourist transportation. The Carretera Austral quickly became a very attractive opportunity for tourists, as did the lake ports, for tourists visiting the Chapels and Cathedrals in the area.

With this reorganization, the Exploradores Valley entered the regional tourist circuit. The Exploradores Valley began to experience its own process of land expansion, but much later. Although the Carretera Austral began to be built in the 1980s, the section that goes into the valley began to be developed in the mid-1990s (1996), reaching Bayo Lake at the turn of the millennium (see Fig. 5.5). The old path that used to take the settlers through hills, rivers, and ravines gave way to a land road that connected the deepest part of the valley with Puerto Río Tranquilo. By 2010, a large part of the road had already been built, but it was not until 2017 that the bridge over the Teresa River was completed, connecting the entire valley up to Exploradores Bay.

Fig. 5.5
A map with parts labeled for the commune of Chile Chico, the Commune of Aysen, the Commune of Rio Ibanez, etcetera. The legends marked are the study area, communal boundary, infrastructure, natural protected areas, and hydrography.

Timeline of road and bridge development with the Exploradores Valley

Route X-728 allowed the possibility of visiting the Exploradores Glacier and reaching the San Rafael Lagoon on a land-water trip directly from Coyhaique. The Exploradores Glacier provides an entrance to the Northern Ice Fields and represents the northern limit of the great continental ice masses of the southern hemisphere. It is not only an attraction for the sublime landscape and visitors wanting to observe it from viewpoints or take a walk on the ice, but also attracts scientists to learn what this space can tell us about climate change.

3.1 In Search of Patagonian Tourism: Pristine Scenery and Exclusivity

This brief history of tourism in Valle Exploradores shows us two central things. In the first place, tourism in the area has been built from the resignification of historical economic activities. The processes of occupation by the first western settlers and their families, together with their agricultural and livestock exploitations, ultimately created a gateway for tourism development. The tourism boom is based on the appeal of nature, sometimes romantic, sometimes as an economic support, and sometimes as a system of capitalist expansion (Núñez et al. 2019). Under the apparent uniformity of the activity, a series of territorial tensions are hidden, where the conversion to tourism was practically an imposition. Second, how tourism activity is constituted in the territory, which currently presents a resignification of nature that is always in dispute in relation to other activities. How is this idea of tourism constructed? It seems to be constructed in a traditional way and aspires to mass tourism through a more selective tourism. This shows that, on the one hand, the way in which nature is enjoyed has been transforming, but also how there are parts of these attractions that aim at mass tourism (e.g., cathedral and marble chapel) and others that are subject to special conditions or characteristics, such as visits to the glacier or the San Rafael lagoon.

Thus, in quantitative terms, tourism is an activity that presents an increase in visitors (see Fig. 5.6). However, this brings about the question of what type of infrastructure has accompanied these increases, and what this infrastructure has been designed for. There is a clash and at the same time a complementarity between traditional forms of mass tourism and alternative forms of tourism. The town is filling up with cabins for visitor lodging to accommodate the more mass tourism, while lodges and nature sites are being installed in less accessible places in an effort to attract the alternative forms of tourism. This can be observed as the process of late rural (neo)colonization associated with the appropriation of nature. In this sense, we believe that it is necessary to continue the study of land ownership in combination with other studies of tourism development since the processes of urbanization and ruralization of the territory contain a tourism component. Doing so may show that the growth of the built and urbanized environment is not a product of the growth of the local population, but more a result of the arrival of new permanent and seasonal inhabitants whose main motivation is the tourism development of the area.

Fig. 5.6
A cluster bar graph for the number of visitors over the years 2010 to 2018. The plot is for Chileans, foreigners, and totals. The value peaks for Chileans at 5821 in 2018, foreigners at 2401 in 2018, and totals at 8222 in 2018.

Evolution of domestic and international visitors to San Rafael Lagoon National Park 2010–2018. Based on visitor statistics from the SNASPE Unit, Chilean National Forestry Corporation, 2010–2018

Among the main consequences of this process, we find transformations in the identity and daily narrative of the area. As has been seen in other places, tourist activity needs to be evaluated from different perspectives, since its impact reaches spheres of everyday life (Ojeda 2019; Zamirato and Tomazzoni 2015). Whether by the development activities that were not previously carried out in the place, or by resignifications to what was previously done, local inhabitants have had to get used to the constant arrival of people, as well as to the seasonality of visitor flows.

The Exploradores Valley is the last of the valleys in western Patagonia to be opened to land accessibility, making it possible to reach the international natural attraction, San Rafael Glacier and Lagoon on the same day by a combination of land and sea transport. This recent accessibility marks a point from which the processes of socio-territorial transformation and change accelerated. It is in this sense that the natural aspects become relevant again. The valley has gained recognition with respect to scientific interest, focusing on the monitoring of socio-environmental factors starting from a basal state (zero): an isolated valley whose conditions could be close to a pristine state of the environment. This interest illuminates one of the main discourses and narratives from which Patagonian tourism is understood, the search for spaces unaltered by human beings. However, human action was present within the region’s evolution, as observed by evident fires since the beginning of the twentieth century and later decades or in less visible traces such as aquatic microorganisms in the soil (Barrows 1923; Castree et al. 2009).

The opening to tourism also meant the evolution of settlement and the use of the valley. In this sense, a similar process occurred throughout the region, where traditional activities were in a process of adjustment. Tourism emerged as a complementary activity that gradually took center stage in the territory. For example, the town of Puerto Río Tranquilo was transforming to the rhythm of these new valuations of the territory. Access made all the difference. This can be seen in the tension placed on local attractions (e.g., marble chapels and cathedrals) and others that are more distant (e.g., San Rafael lagoon), where previously there was no direct connection with the maritime space.

Likewise, and perhaps one of the elements in which we can most directly see the transformation, is in the pressure on land use, especially in the increase in land prices. The cattle ranching work of the first settlers occurred on land that had to be cleared for their use. Each group that came to settle requested from the State an extension of several square kilometers that would allow the installation of livestock. All these properties had a very low economic value, both because of poor connectivity and because of their challenging conditions for agricultural activity, which was the main mode of use. However, the opening of transportation routes, as well as a change in the discourse on nature and its consequent commodification, caused a considerable increase in the value of the land, as there was constant pressure to obtain a portion of this paradise.

If we observe the number of land transfers between 1959 and 2019 (see Fig. 5.7), we find that there is a first stage of the initial configuration of land ownership that goes from 1959 to 1978, involving few transactions of large acreage. In the second stage, from 1979 to 2008, the number of land purchases and sales increased considerably, with less acreage per parcel than in the first stage. In the third stage, from 2009 to 2019, land purchases continued to increase while the average acreage of each sale decreased more drastically. This trend demonstrates how, as time goes by, properties are becoming smaller and smaller.

Fig. 5.7
A bar graph for the surface area versus the year ranges. The bars are plotted for surface area in kilometers square, with a peak value of 61.24 from 2009 to 2019. The lines are plotted for N degrees of cases, with the highest value of 52 from 2009 to 2019.

Evolution of land ownership transfers 1959–2019 in the Exploradores Valley of the Aysén Region, Chile. Based on Aysén and Coyhaique Real Estate Conservators

In Fig. 5.8, it is possible to interpret the impact of connectivity created by the opening of the road in this isolated valley, from 2009 onward. Land ownership transfers shifted to new regional and extra-regional landowners with dissimilar transactions in terms of surface areas. This same process has been recorded in other sectors of western Patagonia, where the term “neo colonists” has been associated with these new landowners (Núñez et al. 2020). However, the phenomenon of subdivision and relative fragmentation of the properties has been observed in the study area since the 1990s. In this area, the sale of properties of the old and first settlers to corporations and individuals that did not necessarily occupy the properties, makes it difficult to label them as new settlers in the area (see Fig. 5.8).

Fig. 5.8
A map of Exploradora's Valley with labels for land tenure transactions, boundaries and towns, infrastructure, natural protected areas, and hydrography.

Land tenure transactions in the Exploradores Valley, Bahía Exploradores-Lago Bayo section

These processes have also had an impact on residential settlement composition in the area. In direct relation to the tourist activity focused on lodging and the amenities of the surrounding landscape, Puerto Rio Tranquilo has spatially concentrated the installation of tourist infrastructure such as cabins for lodging, initiating a process of socio-spatial segregation. Considering tourism development as a socio-territorial process broadens our view of tourism in the Exploradores Valley. Its trajectory shows us that its tourist attractions have been in the spotlight for several decades and therefore are not a recent phenomenon. What is recent is the possibility of accessing them through a much more accessible network of transportation routes. Thus, we propose that efforts to understand tourism development in the area must consider the traditional dimensions of the activity, the dimensions of land use and ownership, and socioeconomic and demographic changes. These should not be considered as a consequence, but on the contrary, should be added to the equation that is at the basis of tourism.

Patagonia in general and the valley in particular have their own version of the socio-territorial processes that occur worldwide. This is largely due to the way in which the area has been explored, colonized, researched, and exploited. In addition, the western imaginaries are involved in each of these intentions. In other words, western imaginaries, as an ideology of conquest—of the human being over nature—affect those who research, explore, or exploit it. Patagonia remains an imaginary territory, a product of the spirit of five centuries of western explorations (Bourlon 2020).

4 Conclusions

The ways Patagonia and its inhabitants (locals and visitors) have been referred to and are referred to today portray a highly desirable region, which in many ways creates a status for the person who has had the experience of being in Patagonia. The economic activity of tourism in Patagonia involves a range of physical activities (backpacker lodges, cruises that visit the glacier, hiking itineraries, nature reserves, fishing in untamed rivers, etc.), that can be understood as a construction of the irresistibility of Patagonia as a tourist destination for travelers who enjoy the most daring activities. Thus, the construction of Patagonia, as a wild and untamed territory, invites a tourism oriented toward the isolated and remote and, in turn, attracts a certain type of tourist.

The Aysén region of Patagonia, in western Patagonia, is unlike other sectors of Patagonia that are mostly described in terms of relationships between Indigenous groups and their territories (such as Tierra del Fuego and the chronicles that document the relationships between Selknam, Yaghan, and missionary groups). The western part of Patagonia—referred to in this chapter—is characterized by a more corporate way of being, and this understanding is narrated by the available data. Wilderness, desolation, adverse climate, and exuberant nature, far from the idea of western civilization, provide a sense of extreme territory that is easily marketed. However, as Ogden (2021) points out, all places in the world are real and imagined at the same time, which in many ways suggests that we should ask ourselves how many Patagonias are possible based on the available information.

Considering the activities of different kinds that have occurred over time in this part of Patagonia, it seems important to offer some reflections on two questions. First, we consider how the available data shape the way Patagonia is developed; and second; how ideas of nature and culture, understood as two distinct spheres, underlie the ways in which research on Patagonia is produced.

A variety of types of secondary data are available for reviewing information about Patagonia: housing and population censuses, data on the number of visitors to the Region from the Chilean National Tourism Service (SERNATUR), data on protected areas and nature reserves, and other data produced by the Central Bank, Chilean National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), the Ministry of the Environment, among others. We propose that these data should be seen as empirical material with the purpose of understanding how, through the data, certain ideas about Patagonia and processes of tourism development, are perpetuated. It seems appropriate to inquire about the secondary data used to describe Patagonia about nature and culture; human/non-human; male/female; pristine/intervened; wild/civilized; local/tourist. Integrating this analysis of how information about Patagonia is produced, allows us to ask about other issues that are fundamental to understanding processes of tourism development.

We propose that the data used for both research and policy design should be interrogated in order to understand how dominant concepts and assumptions about nature, culture, gender, territory, and progress, underlie the production of both quantitative and qualitative information. We suggest that our research and practitioner communities consider how these concepts and assumptions might contribute to the persistence of systems that produce territorial inequality.

For example, we could explore how the binary gender norm affects the production of secondary data that is then used, in an unproblematized way, to talk about Patagonia. If the available data are shown using a distribution of work associated with the normative male/female dichotomy, we would have to assume that the distribution of work in Patagonia is gendered, that is, the activities and roles assigned to men and women from the gender norm are not questioned. This focus might make it difficult to account for and access other forms of work organization that could help to think about Patagonia in other ways. Just as many disciplines are reevaluating the reciprocal relationships between human and nature, we find challenging proposals that “identify nature as a category of social analysis as important as (and articulated with) class, race, and gender” (Cruikshank 2005, p. 4).

Likewise, perspectives from the social sciences and natural sciences—framed within more contemporary perspectives such as posthumanist theoretical lines and new materialisms—have highlighted the importance of the conceptualizations of nature and culture in the ways in which the environment is investigated (Alaimo 2016; Bennett 2010; Cruikshank 2005; Haraway 2016; Houser 2014; Nixon 2011; Tsing 2015). Primarily, these positions suggest that by separating nature from culture, we perpetuate a fictitious division of the world that has served to justify the use of nature as an exploitable resource, and in turn, culture is reduced to what groups of people do. This separation perpetuates an ontological, epistemological, and ethical order that defines, among other things, how these two spheres are studied (social sciences study the human, and natural sciences study the natural world) (Matus et al. 2021). This nonrelationship between human and non-human in how information is produced about regions such as Patagonia, is problematic. The relationship between the human and non-human worlds deserves consideration, in our opinion, in how the future of territories such as Patagonia is imagined.