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Environmental conflictuality in the Marseille-Cassis Calanques: background, challenges and resolution

Anne Cadoret and Xavier Daumalin


This article addresses environmental conflictuality in the Calanques area in the south of France, which has been a National Park since 2012. Our work draws on two disciplinary fields – economic history and social geography – to shed light on the frictions, their interaction and the factors behind them from the 19th century to today. By taking the historical legacy into consideration, we have a better understanding of the complexity of the motivations for current disputes. This study is based on a mostly discursive analysis with which we have identified endogenous and exogenous conflicts. This contribution also provides an opportunity to take a new look at conflict situations within a broader timeframe, to assess whether there are interactions between one conflict and another and to appreciate the determining role of situations external to the Calanques in conflictual processes, reminding us of the close links between neighbouring urban areas and the National Park.

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This work received financial support from the French government (via the French National Agency for Research) under two separate schemes:
- the A*MIDEX “future investment” project, ref.
ANR-11-IDEX-0001-02 (SynTerCalM (Synergie sur le Territoire des Calanques Marseillaises) project (2014-2016), led by Isabelle Laffont-Schwob (IMBE Aix-Marseille University)),
- the SOCENV (Société et Changements environnementaux) project, ref. ANR-13-SENV-0001-01 (EFFIJIE (Environmental Effort as Inequality: Justice and Inequity in the name of the Environment. For a comparative analysis of biodiversity and water policies in metropolitan and overseas France (2014-2018), led by V. Deldreve and J. Candau, Irstea, Bordeaux).


1Peri-urban protected areas are often the stage for strong and complex tensions between multiple objectives: biodiversity conservation, local development and harmonious co-habitation. In many cases, these tensions lead to conflict. This reveals just how difficult it can be to reconcile these different objectives in a way that takes into account both local and more general needs (housing requirements, urban expansion, damage to ecosystems and environmental conservation) as, for example, in Bogotá (Quimbayo Ruiz, 2012), Rio de Janeiro (Figueira et al., 2012), etc. These antagonistic situations, which are particularly acute in densely populated coastal regions, pose a major problem when it comes to implementing viable, public integrated resource management activities. These conflicts can no longer be ignored or marginalised. They have a significant impact on management policies, as well as on the coherence and acceptance of the measures implemented (Shipman and Stojanovic, 2007; Stepanova, 2015).

2The Calanques – an area of southern France granted National Park status in 2012 – is unique in that it stands at the interface between the urban and the natural area, marking the boundary of urban expansion in Marseille, Cassis and La Ciotat. It also marks the point at which land and sea meet. The Calanques is a marine and coastal protected area (MCPA) governed by two separate institutional and legal regimes (terrestrial area and marine area). This, in turn, leads to complex relationships among the stakeholders responsible for managing this type of area (Chaboud et al., 2008). Integrated coastal area management objectives come into direct conflict with urban development objectives, and also have to compete with biodiversity conservation objectives – one of the main goals of National Parks. In other words, this type of area must contend with multiple internal conflicts, and National Park managers in particular are faced with the challenge of resolving these conflicts. In some cases, these disputes fall outside the official boundaries of the National Park itself, making it even more difficult to manage conflicts internally.

3The “classic” disputes normally encountered in nature reserves (noncompliance with regulations, co-habitation issues between users, etc.) are further exacerbated by modern-day urban sanitation and industrial pollution issues, as well as the physical damage to sites prior to the National Park’s creation, and this leads to a continual “back and forth” between temporal and spatial scales. Moreover, it means that the potential links and connections among disputes with apparently different purposes can no longer be ignored.

4Our research puts forward the hypothesis that there are dynamic interactions among conflict situations, that understanding them would be of great benefit for the sustainable management of this protected area and that taking into consideration the territorial issues exogenous to the Park area is crucial for the lasting resolution of environmental conflicts – recent conflicts are influenced by the area’s economic history and its past conflictuality.

5We will begin by setting out our approach and methodology – a cross-disciplinary approach at the intersection between social geography and modern economic history. Next, we will give a brief description of the area concerned by our study. We will then focus on the main conflicts that have affected the Calanques, which, according to our analysis, may be divided into two separate groups: endogenous conflicts and exogenous conflicts. Finally, we will address the key interactions amongst these situations and the factors behind them, and how these findings call into question current governance mechanisms.

Understanding territorial dynamics through conflictuality

Why study conflict?

6Numerous studies from various social science disciplines (sociology, geography, history, etc.) have demonstrated how analysing an area through the prism of conflict can provide a wealth of information. Conflicts have a number of advantages for researchers. First and foremost, they reveal the tensions and power struggles in action in the societies in which they erupt (Rucht et al., 1999, cited by Trudelle, 2003; Mélé, 2003). Moreover, conflicts have the effect of shattering the established consensus, thereby fostering the emergence of new positions and actions. This, in turn, sheds light on the political and economic challenges of the time (Le Roux and Letté, 2013), the views and motivations of different local stakeholders (whether openly stated or hidden – Daumalin, 2013), and alliances and shifts in alliances among stakeholders. An analysis of these action frameworks can help give a better understanding of the relationships between spaces and societies (Lecourt and Faburel, 2005). By studying disputes and conflicts, it is also possible to identify the reasons why some projects succeed and others fail (management, planning and economic development factors) by revealing the complex interactions between temporal and spatial scales. In some cases, conflicts lead to the establishment of a new status quo – one that reveals the level of democracy within the societies concerned (Kirat and Torre, 2006) and the prevailing ideologies (Massard-Guilbaut, 2010; Le Roux, 2011; Fressoz, 2012). When analysing conflict, researchers must pay close attention to the outcomes of the underlying processes. These include, among other things, the development of geographical proximity (Caron and Torre, 2006), the reconfiguration of modes of governance (Torre et al., 2010), the creation of new territories (Mélé, 2003), social innovation, etc. In their review of the literature, Stepanova and Bruckmeier (2013) show that the study of coastal conflicts remains insufficiently developed and has been neglected in research into integrated coastal zone management. This paper aims to add to the body of work about these areas, paying particular attention to the connections among the various conflict situations.

7To do this, we have chosen to examine several conflicts in an area that has faced many different challenges over the last two centuries (agropastoralism, fishing, industrialisation, urbanisation and heritage preservation). Our research differs from but completes the monographs that describe one conflictual process in detail, and are closer to studies analysing several conflicts, thus making it possible to compare conflict mechanisms, modes of expression, the sites involved in protests, etc. This approach helps us analyse this phenomenon from a spatial perspective: why here and not elsewhere? What influence does the socio-spatial context have on the way in which stakeholders organise themselves, or on the viability of these conflicts’ resolution?

8Rather than comparing conflicts occurring in a particular type of space or focusing on a common theme, some researchers have opted to look at the interactions between disputes arising in the same space (potentially with different purposes). This approach can be justified on three separate grounds. Firstly, by analysing multiple disputes within a given territory (protected area, administrative region, etc.), it becomes possible to identify the intensity, frequency and complexity of these respective conflicts. Secondly, this approach offers an opportunity to analyse unexpected conflicts – episodes that may reveal major underlying challenges and issues and, in turn, offer a greater understanding of territorial dynamics (Dupré, 2007). Thirdly, and lastly, this approach makes it possible to analyse the connections between these different forms of opposition. For example, Trudelle (2003) focused on the links among conflicts in the city of Québec over the last 20 years, and showed how one conflict can influence another. Recent work on environmental conflict in port areas has revealed that conflict negotiations affect other disputes (Beuret and Cadoret, 2014). The lack or failure of the settlement of one conflict may partly explain the strengthening of another by radicalising one of the parties involved, affecting the strategies adopted and, ultimately, affecting the area itself.

9It has also become clear from our research that conflict situations are generally analysed from a limited temporal perspective, focusing solely on the last few decades of recent history. In their efforts to explain certain conflict dynamics, authors tend to look back to the mid-20th century, arguing that the conflicts of the 1970s have had a major structural impact on modern-day conflicts (Mormont, 2006). While a period of a few decades may be sufficient to identify the core components of today’s conflicts, it remains insufficient to identify effectively the underlying issues of conflictuality in general. This is especially true when an area – like the Calanques – bears the scars of past industrial pollution (Daumalin and Laffont-Schwob, 2016).

10Our research is based on the identification and characterisation of a range of conflicts over a long period of time, and pays particular attention to their interactions and the factors motivating them. By choosing a global perspective of the conflictuality of Marseille’s Calanques, we take a systemic approach in order to grasp the complexity of the situation (Donnadieu and Karsky, 2002).


11Researchers working on two separate programmes (SynterCalM and EFFIJIE) collected substantial information from several sources. By cross-referencing these materials, it has been possible to identify the conflictual processes in the Calanques between the 19th century and the present day, with a particular focus on two periods: the 19th and early 20th century, and the period that began when the National Park was officially established (2012-2016).

12The historical research on the 19th century focused on an exhaustive analysis of administrative and legal archives from 1809 to 1914, such as authorisation requests to the prefect to set up a classified establishment, “commodo incommodo” (operating permit) procedures and all the complaints filed by local residents about pollution generated by companies (matters managed by the civil courts since the 1810 decree). Approximately twenty complaints were discovered and analysed. Reports written by experts on behalf of the Royal Society of Medicine (1809-1825), the Health Council (1825-1848) and the Public Health and Safety Council (1848-1914) to assess the scope of the damage caused by factories were also consulted, making it possible to identify over more than a century all affairs brought before the courts and not only those linked to industry. Data was also collected from the press (Le Sémaphore de Marseille, Le petit Marseillais and La Gazette du Midi) and the private archives of companies established in the Calanques in the 19th century such as Solvay & Cie. Among these collections, the archives of contractors’ lawyers revealed various measures implemented by manufacturers to attempt to manage the consequences of their waste (preliminary choice of sites to dispose of waste; overview of vegetation before and after the factory’s initial production; compensation in anticipation of future damage, etc.). Almost twenty linear metres of archives were consulted in the various archive sites, giving a full picture of complaints filed during this period. For the more recent period, we collected and used data from the local daily press from 1980 to 2012 and from 2012 to 2016, as well as conducting twenty-four semi-directive interviews between June and December 2016. From La Marseillaise archives, and more specifically from the daily local newspaper La Provence, we identified 508 press articles describing conflicts, 370 of them referring to the period between April 2012 and April 2016 when gathering articles was systematic and more refined thanks to digital archives. The elements addressing conflict sites, stakeholders, motives, etc. were used to create a database according to a methodology described in earlier studies (including Torre et al., 2010; Beuret and Cadoret, 2014). Between June 2015 and December 2016, we also conducted interviews with National Park officials (7); community representatives from the leisure industry and environmental protection (4) and the fishing industry (1), local councillors and local authority officials (3), inhabitants (4), administrative officials responsible for the environment (3), and employees from a local company (2). Analysing these interviews gives a better understanding of the range of stakeholders, social representations and conflict mechanisms, and helps clarify the issues at stake, which are not necessarily always explicit. The findings presented in this article are the result of two levels of data analysis: an analysis by period (former and current) and a cross analysis over the long term that, among other things, enables us to identify recurrent conflictual dynamics and re-establish conflictual events in a broader area-based context in which issues external to the Calanques play a role in the conflict situations that unfold within the area.

Fertile ground for analysing conflict processes

13The Marseille-Cassis Calanques is an area on the Mediterranean coast known for its biodiversity. Erosion has shaped the limestone into a very rugged topography with narrow valleys where the sea has penetrated. The uplands consist of rocky, forest, and waterfront habitats in which over 900 plant species have been recorded. The sheltered areas of the valley floor and plateaux have provided fertile ground for the development of agropastoralism, hunting and gathering and later industrial, tourist and heritage uses. Residential areas and port, road and industrial infrastructure exist in this area that attracts millions of visitors every year. Today, the breach between urbanised and natural areas is somewhat striking, as can be seen in the photos (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Photos of the Marseille Calanques Massif

Figure 1 – Photos of the Marseille Calanques Massif

14To some extent, the land and sea boundaries of this area remain somewhat fluid, since the area is a social construct in which activities have helped shape and transform the representations of this space and its borders.

15Our study, however, focuses on a space within the perimeter of the Calanques National Park (PNC) established in 2012 and consisting of a “core area” and an accession area on land and an adjacent maritime zone at sea (Map 1). National Parks’ “core areas” are areas of high environmental value where the activities that take place must be compatible with the protection of the natural and human environment and where the regulation of activities is stricter than it is for peripheral areas.

Map 1 – The Calanques National Park

Map 1 – The Calanques National Park

16The law passed in 2006 offers a new governance framework for protected areas in France, and public and private local actors are represented in the three bodies that manage the public institution including the Executive Board, itself composed of 60% local stakeholders and chaired by an elected local councillor from Marseille’s City Council. Local stakeholders therefore have a prominent position in this new mode of governance that aims to link interests that may, at times, diverge between international environmental protection requirements, area-based expectations in terms of the region’s attractiveness and political positions that are not always easy to grasp.

17Although for over a century the Calanques has enjoyed special attention in terms of protecting its biodiversity and natural heritage, nevertheless, due to its proximity to a major city with a population of more than one million people and the region’s industrial past, human activities continue to place extreme pressure on this coastal area.

The Calanques: a history of conflict

18The Calanques, south of Marseille, is an area marked by a long history of environmental conflict. Today, the Calanques are popular as a place where individuals and families can relax and unwind, surrounded by supposedly “unspoilt” nature and free from pollution. Yet before this, the area was seen as a dumping ground for Marseille’s most polluting industries – soda, sulphuric acid, sulphur, lead, oil refining and sewage (including industrial discharge). Eight separate industrial sites have been identified, with several factories at each site in some cases: Montredon, Samena, Escalette, Les Goudes, Callelongue, the lane leading to the Col de Sormiou, Port-Miou, and Bestouan beach (Cassis) (Map 2). The remote location of the industrial sites meant that it was often necessary to build accommodation for employees and some of these buildings are now occupied by private residents.

Map 2 – Industrial sites identified in the Calanques

Map 2 – Industrial sites identified in the Calanques

The legacy of opposition prior to the creation of the PNC: two waves of conflict

19Generally speaking, the individual and collective action in the Calanques prior to the creation of the Calanques National Park in 2012 can be divided into two broad periods:

20- The first period, between 1809 and 1910, primarily involved endogenous conflict (between industrialists and local residents), with most of the complaints relating to the practices used and resources available in the local area. Heavy chemical and metalwork industries produced waste that posed a threat to country lifestyles, net hunting, fishing and agropastoralism – long-standing practices that were considered a key part of the area’s identity. This, in turn, led to a series of conflicts. During this wave of conflict, the Calanques’ environment was first and foremost perceived as a potential resource and an elite social marker for wealthy country-home owners (Daumalin and Laffont-Schwob, 2016).

21- The second period, between 1910 and the foundation of the Calanques National Park, saw conflicts triggered mainly by external factors. Although these conflicts still focused primarily on a particular site within the Calanques, other elements had now emerged. In many cases, the conflicts were initiated by social networks outside the Calanques, particularly in Marseille, and the debates focused less on the environment as a resource, and more on the protection and conservation of the “natural” beauty of the Provençal coastal zone. This reflected a growing trend for landscapes to be considered monuments and sanctuaries, a greater awareness of the need to protect nature, and the growth in countryside sports and leisure pursuits (Attard-Maraninchi, 2002). The environment itself had become an element of heritage.

22A huge demonstration in Port-Miou in 1910 marked an important milestone in this second wave of conflict (Daumalin, 2016). Firstly, it represented a turning point between the two periods of conflict discussed previously. It was both an expression of traditional opposition to an industrial multinational, and an exogenous conflict that had its main origins in networks outside the Calanques. Evidence of this external influence was apparent both at the start of the demonstration and throughout its media coverage. One of the main protagonists was the Société Nautique de Marseille, whose prestigious members would often moor their yachts in the Calanque de Port-Miou and use the area as a place to socialise in the countryside. Now, their haven of peace and privacy was under threat from the explosions at the quarries, which they accused of projecting blocks of stone onto their boats in the bottom of the Calanque and blocking access to the area. The external influence was also evident in the resolution of this case, when the Brussels-based managers of Solvay exerted pressure on the French government. As a result, the authorities decided to dismiss the complaints brought by the Société Nautique de Marseille.

23The 1910 conflict was also unique in the sense that it was a mass demonstration (the first of many environmental demonstrations in the region), bringing together around 2,000 people mobilised by the regional press (Figure 2) as well as dozens of cultural and sports associations. Their aim was to prevent the physical destruction of the landscape and to protect an area considered an element of cultural heritage by securing the official listing of three Calanques as protected sites (Port-Miou, Port-Pin and En-Vau).

Figure 2 – The mass demonstration in Port-Miou, 1910 (Coll. Bernard Paoli)

Figure 2 – The mass demonstration in Port-Miou, 1910 (Coll. Bernard Paoli)

24The Port-Miou demonstration was also closely aligned with the regional identity movement. In fact, it fed off this movement, mobilised by Frédéric Mistral – the founder and charismatic leader of the Félibrige literary and cultural Association (1854). The demonstration also strengthened the cause of the regionalist movement. Firstly, it signified a rejection of the Other (in this case a foreign Other, Solvay &Cie), accused of riding roughshod over works of “natural” art in the Calanques like an invading force, and of dispossessing the local inhabitants of part of their identity and heritage. Secondly, it brought together a group of people and associations from a wide variety of backgrounds in defence of a single cause: the Calanques. These included excursionists, sporting and cultural associations, leading figures from the Société Nautique de Marseille, fishermen from Cassis, the Félibrige, and the local press – groups that had previously had no connection with one another. Thirdly, it introduced, or cemented, the defence of Provence’s environment and associated activities (as supported by the regionalist movement) as a legitimate and credible theme.

25A number of other protests against attacks on the area’s “natural” heritage occurred during the 20th century, and several of these protests were also widely publicised in the press. One such example came in 1992 when Marseille City Council decided to revise its land-use plan and included a proposal to allow around 20 hectares of the Calanques to be built on. In protest against this plan, associations and citizens joined forces to create the Union Calanques Littoral. Eventually, the movement had over 600,000 members, including 80 organisations that had been involved in the 1910 demonstration, such as Club Alpin Français and Excursionnistes Marseillais, alongside the Association des Calanquais de Sormiou. The city council ultimately abandoned its plan in 1993. A few years later, the idea of a National Park emerged. The project met with significant local opposition, covered by the media (Map 3), particularly with regard to the administrative status of the protected area, the boundaries of the fishing and hunting areas, and the area of the park subject to enhanced protection measures, where prohibitions and regulatory requirements would be far stricter (Fissier, 2013).

Map 3 – Sites and disputed locations mentioned in local daily press articles relating to a conflict (1988-2012)

Map 3 – Sites and disputed locations mentioned in local daily press articles relating to a conflict (1988-2012)

Towards a third wave of conflict?

26The National Park was created, overcoming these oppositions with a series of compromises, some more satisfactory than others. Deboudt and Deldreve (2012) describe these in detail. It can be argued that since 2012, we have entered into a third wave of conflict, this time involving a powerful new institutional stakeholder.

27In addition to those that existed prior to the formal creation of the Park, new forms of opposition have emerged, the outcome of which remains fragile. By analysing the press and conducting interviews, we have identified six key conflictual themes linked to the environment: pollution (air, soil and, in particular, the aquatic environment); urban planning; the regulation of uses including industrial fishing and recreational and sporting activities; access to the Park (traffic congestion, especially during the summer, boat shuttle services); cohabitation between uses as well as conflicts linked to the park’s institutionalisation and more specifically, a political conflict involving the presidency of the institution, reflecting a power struggle between elected representatives from the same party (Figure 3). The evidence points to a diverse array of conflicts involving multiple stakeholders (local authorities, associations, residents, central government, industrialists, pleasure-boaters, etc.). In most cases, these disputes have involved Marseille City Council and, either directly or indirectly, the National Park institution.

Figure 3 – Conflictual issues since the National Park’s creation in 2012, in La Provence, La Marseillaise newspaper (2012-2016)

Figure 3 – Conflictual issues since the National Park’s creation in 2012, in La Provence, La Marseillaise newspaper (2012-2016)

© Source: Cadoret, EFFIJIE

28As with previous conflicts, these disputes have taken a variety of forms, including petitions, demonstrations, media campaigns, deliberate infringements and legal action. Some of these conflicts (deliberate infringement of regulations) receive little media coverage. Others, meanwhile, (such as protests against property development projects) have been widely covered in the press and have led to public demonstrations and graffiti.

29Among the conflicts most often mentioned in the press and interviews are those involving urbanisation and urban development projects. They can also be found in official agents’ statements recording planning permission infringements for extensions or illegal embankments. Depending on the nature of the offence, the public prosecutor may decide to take the case to court and offenders may be subject to sanctions such as fines, restoration orders or compensation. For maritime offences, since 2012, public authorities’ coordination appears to be effective for recorded infringements. However, a certain number of problems have characterised the management of infringements on land. In fact, in a listed site (which covers almost the entire core area of a National Park on land), the relevant authorities have a period of three years to take action against property owners who carry out work without authorisation (excluding sites in the maritime public domain).

30For local residents protesting against a particular development or renovation project within the protected area, this situation is simply incomprehensible. Some stakeholders question and criticise the authorities’ role. There are numerous cases where this approach can be seen. One prime example is the opposition to the effluents that the Gardanne aluminium oxide factory has been releasing into the Cassidaigne canyon, 7 km off the coast of Cassis bay, since 1967. Press articles (one third of the articles discuss this affair) reveal environmentalists’ frustration with the prevailing procrastination over this issue, and with the fact that the case was passed from one authority to the next over time, without any apparent resolution – until a decision was finally made recently to allow the discharge to continue under certain conditions.

31Another example involves property development projects at the former military site of Mont-Rose on the outskirts of the National Park where the various pacts between political and economic actors have been denounced by residents, associations and opposition parties. However, government administration, whose consent is required before any modification can be made to a site in the Park’s core area or in a Nature 2000 site, is delaying and making more complex the resolution of the conflict, the environmental stakes (the impact on biodiversity) and social stakes (privatising part of the site) of which are considerable. A final example is the project to convert a former blockhouse at Les Goudes into a restaurant, and then into a bar and music venue. This project (dating back to 1998) was fiercely contested by local residents who drafted petitions, demonstrated, publicised their case in the press and sent several letters to the relevant authorities. Some authorities disapproved of the project, while others gave their consent. Due to the inconsistent response from the authorities, the developers were able to start work. However, the creation of the National Park marked a game-changing moment in this case, since its authorisation was needed for work to commence. Eventually, in 2014, it blocked the project on the grounds that the proposed use was incompatible with the rules governing noise within the park’s core area. The presence of the National Park has therefore given opponents of property development projects within the protected area a new “ace in their pack”.

32The National Park appears to be involved to some extent or other in every conflict – when the measures put in place are the source of oppositions (new regulations and bans on certain activities, limits on uses, etc.); when it is in a position to mediate conflicts (e.g. for proposed activities within the park); when its inaction is contested; or when it used to legitimise certain strategies or arguments. Some conflicts relate specifically to sites located within the protected area itself (e.g. the Cassidaigne Canyon and Cortiou Channel in the park’s core area) and, as such, involve the Park as an entity. However, the causes of these conflicts should be sought on a wider spatial or temporal scale, even prior to the existence of protected areas. We refer to these disputes as exogenous conflicts, and make a clear distinction between these and endogenous conflicts.

33During the course of our analysis, we have identified a clear distinction between conflict dynamics arising as a result of internal factors within the Calanques (emergence, origin, resolution, stakeholders), and those largely having their origins outside the area and covering a broader sphere (involving stakeholders from outside the National Park and relating to non-environmental issues). We define the first type of dispute as endogenous conflicts within a protected area. These conflicts involve processes in which the National Park itself is the arena, target or issue underpinning the associated disputes, and where the causes of the conflict may be identified within the protected area. For example, these types of conflict may include opposition to the establishment of protective measures by the National Park, conflicts associated with a particular project or business within the protected area, or disputes between different practices occurring within the Calanques.

34In terms of exogenous conflicts, we define these as processes of opposition that relate to a space located either within or near the protected area (where the National Park forms an integral part of the area covered by the conflict), but where the causes of the conflict itself can only be found by looking outside the National Park, i.e. disputes that reflect broader issues (urban planning, regional strategies, industrialisation). Examples of this type of conflict include disputes surrounding water pollution (discharge of bauxite processing residues off the coast at Cassis, or wastewater discharge via the Cortiou Channel, around 10% of which remains untreated). This category also includes conflicts surrounding property development projects close to the National Park, such as the planned development of the former Legré-Mante industrial site in La Madrague de Montredon (Map 4).

Map 4 – Endogenous and exogenous conflicts in the Calanques National Park or nearby

Map 4 – Endogenous and exogenous conflicts in the Calanques National Park or nearby

35The institutionalisation of a stakeholder with strong prerogatives over the Calanques area has created a new wave of conflict – new although linked to the old wave by interactions among conflicts, yet distinct because the area’s governance has changed enormously, with, inevitably, a considerable impact on conflict resolution and the balance between protection, local development and harmonious co-habitation. In our view, the distinction between endogenous and exogenous conflicts sheds light on the potential resolution modes preferred by stakeholders and as a factor in understanding governance modes (Cadoret, 2017).

The dynamic components of conflictuality

36Our analysis of different conflicts reveals interactions of varying degrees between conflict situations that can, at times, add force to a dispute and make its resolution more complex. We specify these links and the non-conflictual elements that are nevertheless contextual or specific to the area and that galvanise its conflictuality.

Interactions among conflicts

37We have identified several elements that link conflict processes, including stakeholders, the space itself and environmental efforts.

38We have observed that in each phase of the conflict process, some stakeholders (including the media, local residents, associations, politicians, business leaders, central government, experts and lawyers) are involved in multiple opposition situations. During the first wave of conflict, for example, one particular actor was systematically involved in every dispute. A wealthy local landowner, and later his son, spent more than half a century opposing the owners of the Samena soda factory through a series of court cases and petitions. These efforts, in turn, mobilised support from other Montredon residents. Similarly, the local residents living near the factory on the lane leading to the Col de Sormiou opposed industrialists over a period of more than 50 years, focusing their attention on the damage caused by the discharges from the site (Daumalin and Laffont-Schwob, 2016). Moreover, the various conflicts that have arisen between the inter-war period and the present day have all involved the same group of associations. More recently, our analyses reveal that Marseille city is regularly involved in conflicts surrounding urbanisation projects or water pollution. Over time, these conflicts have led to the development of a network of stakeholders who, despite their diverging objectives, have formed a common front. For example, local residents and environmentalists have formed more organised networks over the years and, in some cases, this has led to a shift in the overall balance of power. Nevertheless, opposing, demonstrating and mobilising are activities that require significant human effort and a detailed understanding of the underlying administrative, legal and political processes – elements that have been lacking in some cases. It is also important to recognise that, in some cases, conflict may serve simply to hijack the debate. It would also be worth taking into consideration those who are excluded from debates but are nevertheless affected by the decisions taken when the conflict is settled.

39In many cases, conflicts may involve different motives yet be located on the same site. The space is the arena and the object of conflicts over several periods: present conflicts are influenced by the history of past conflicts, but also by the legacy left by site’s economic history with, for example, the countless slag deposits and traces of the industrial exploitation of several sites, which fuel the current conflictuality. One such example is the Madrague Montredon district, the scene of disputes over congestion, air pollution, an urban development project at Mont Rose and plans to rehabilitate a former factory (Legré Mante). In each case, the cause differs, the stakeholders may not necessarily be the same, and the underlying motives may diverge. This particular space has a number of unique characteristics. It is located on the very outskirts of the city of Marseille and its sewage networks, and has specific topographical features, with steep cliffs and houses close to the water’s edge. It has been the subject of numerous conflicts over the years, and these have become even more prominent since the creation of the National Park. The area is no longer considered a dumping ground, but instead the gateway to an attractive National Park. One of the outcomes of this new role is that the space now suffers considerably more traffic congestion. This, in turn, creates a nuisance for local residents and attracts more potential home-owners to a space that was once “abandoned”. To a certain extent, the National Park has aggravated existing tensions, yet at the same time, it has given greater credibility to local stakeholders’ arguments. Those opposing urban development projects in the area therefore share many things in common with environmental conservationists. As such, the spatial proximity of these conflicts fosters closer relationships between civil society actors.

40The notion of imposed (rather than agreed) effort and constraints in the name of environmental protection may also link conflicts. During the interviews we conducted, we noted that a parallel could often be drawn between opposition to the boundaries of non-fishing areas and conflicts about water pollution. One of the interviewees asked, “Why should we make an effort when “they” [the industrialists] aren’t doing enough?” Another asked, “Why aren’t we allowed to pick mushrooms when the factories are still allowed to release red sludge?” Although National Park officers are used to arguing against this type of question on a daily basis, the fact remains that many people see the level of environmental effort required of them as grossly unfair. This, in turn, can serve to radicalise their positions, lead to unresolved or aggravated conflict and, in some cases, cause people to ignore the decisions made (e.g. rules regarding the picking of certain plant species). Moreover, opposition to water pollution can have an impact on less serious disputes (e.g. competing uses). Other examples show how efforts to establish environmental protection measures can play a role in conflict processes (Cadoret, 2017).

41The connections among conflicts serve as a reminder that understanding the conflictuality of an area is complex, and that any potential resolution modes need to take this complexity into consideration.

Area-specific factors that can stir up conflict

42In addition to the interactions mentioned above, we have also identified a number of factors that have a particular influence on conflicts in the Calanques, and that systematically aggravate or radicalise forms of opposition. One such example is changes in the way in which the environment is represented. Our analysis of individual and collective protests in the Calanques over many years has revealed a paradigm shift in representations of this particular environment. Until 1910, the Calanques were seen as a potential resource for activities such as picking, hunting, livestock farming, agriculture or fishing. Any damage to this environment was calculated in terms of its economic impact, and retribution was sought in the form of financial compensation from the civil courts. At the same time, the environment of the Calanques was seen as a privileged and elitist space, reserved exclusively for wealthy, influential individuals with country homes in the foothills of the mountains. This perception became particularly prominent in the late 19th century (with the creation of the Société des Excursionnistes Marseillais in 1897, and later with the vote on the law on “natural sites and monuments of artistic value” in 1906). It subsequently became the majority and dominant view over the course of the 20th century. As well as becoming a popular getaway and holiday home destination for less wealthy individuals, it also had a growing reputation as a place for health, recreational and sporting activities. As a result, it began to be viewed as a piece of “natural” and cultural heritage, offering a place where Marseille’s residents could go to “take in the fresh air, relax in peaceful surroundings and develop the mind and body” and reconnect with “the most authentic part of themselves” (Attard-Maraninchi, 2002; Walter, 2004). Once the environment had gained recognition as an element of cultural heritage, it became increasingly difficult to negotiate its fate.

43The 1910 demonstration has also played a major role in driving and structuring subsequent conflicts. Although ultimately it ended in failure, and even though it was effectively used as a conduit to serve the needs of the leading figures of the Société Nautique de Marseille (Daumalin, 2016), the 1910 demonstration remained in people’s memories and was used as a point of reference in numerous subsequent conflicts as a way of mobilising and organising opposition efforts or adding credibility to new protests by situating them within a long-standing, historical movement. Examples of this include a series of demonstrations in 1922, as a result of which plans to open a new limestone quarry in En-Vau were abandoned, and a protest movement in 1923, when a group of around 100 associations secured official listing and protection for the forest of La Gardiole in 1934, and the Calanques of En-Vau and Port-Pin in 1936. More recent examples occurred in the 1960s, when entrepreneur Paul Ricard tried, in vain, to oppose the creation of the “sea line” – a project involving the release of red sludge from the Gardanne aluminium oxide factory into the open sea in Cassis’ bay (Mioche and Bertilorenzi, 2015). More recently, the demonstration served as a reference point during a conflict in 1992. By virtue of its significant influence on the environmental conflict landscape and its symbolic meaning, the 1910 demonstration in Port-Miou is widely considered the initial spark that set in motion a series of subsequent association movements aimed at protecting the Calanques’ coastline.

44Conflicts have been made more complex – and more difficult to resolve – by the fact that local users and residents feel as though they have been deprived of their right to carry out activities they see as part of their identity. Traditional users of the Calanques (hunters, fishermen, livestock farmers, country home or hut owners and ramblers) often feel as though “intruders” (businesses and officials from outside the area) pose a direct threat to long-standing income-generating and cultural practices, and that these external actors are riding roughshod over their activities for their own benefit. The effect of these changes on local residents is one of dispossession, cultural integration and impoverishment. These are perceptions that go to the very core of their identities, to their connections with their ancestors and, implicitly, with their descendants. The result is a particularly powerful potential for conflict. These acts are perceived as direct attacks on the local population, and on their (real or supposed) identities. Moreover, these attacks are felt particularly acutely since they often result in definitive dispossession. This perception can be clearly observed in the 19th and 20th centuries in conflicts against new (or proposed) industrial sites. It can still be seen today in grievances against the National Park, and in the fact that its environmental conservation aims sometimes come into direct conflict with self-proclaimed “heritage” activities, such as opponents to the non-fishing areas, who claim that these zones have been “kidnapped” by and for the benefit of external actors.

45We will now turn our attention to a final element: mistrust. There is a general feeling of mistrust against the opacity of certain decision-making processes, against perceived “special privileges” for those seeking administrative authorisations, against suspected bias in expert assessments, and against alleged collusion between businesses, politicians and officials – all to the detriment of local populations. There is one key factor behind opposition movements in both endogenous and exogenous conflicts – a lack of transparency and the perceived interdependence between politics and economic interests. Our analysis of the press and informal individual interviews reveals significant mistrust among local residents in relation to recent urban development projects. This is particularly notable in cases where investors have obtained building permits for sites located in the core area of the National Park, in a Natura 2000 zone, or on the outskirts of – or even within – areas where new constructions are specifically prohibited by France’s Coastal Act or its territorial waters regulations. Even though some of these permits have been issued legally, local residents and users have been quick to express their dissatisfaction with the fact that speculation and individual interests appear to take priority over the protection of biodiversity, and the public interest (tranquillity, landscape preservation, etc.). They decry the fact that there is a marked difference between what politicians say in public (i.e. their commitment to the public interest) and what actually happens (i.e. decisions in favour of a handful of stakeholders and general opacity in dealings with urban developers). There is a general feeling that those in power give “special privileges” to support urban planning. This, in turn, fuels growing opposition against the conurbation’s local politicians, and the political system in Marseille as a whole. Whether this collusion is genuine or merely perceived, there is a prevailing sense of impunity, and this is further aggravated by a lack of transparency, generating a feeling that the system is “unfair” and undermining confidence in the National Park.

46Ultimately, these factors have a significant impact on conflict in the Calanques, particularly where more than one of these factors comes into play at any one time.


47The conflicts arising in the Calanques are not isolated events – instead, they are connected to both the surrounding areas and to one another. Our findings show that spatial and temporal interactions exist among conflicts. Looking back at the dynamics of conflict over a long period reveals that there have been endless struggles and negotiations in and over the Calanques ever since the early 19th century.

48Our analysis has made it possible to highlight the components of a conflict system that would be worth studying more analytically and in more detail for each conflict, the factors that influence opposition and each interaction among conflicts. This more global approach would involve more interdisciplinary research to consolidate the theoretical and systemic basis.

49To identify conflicts, our research was based on the analysis of a great number of archives, as well as interviews for the more recent period. Cross-referencing these sources limits the biases inherent in each of them. Without claiming to be exhaustive, the combination of these sources offers a panoramic view of the environmental conflictuality in Marseille’s Calanques since the early 19th century. Our research, however, focuses on two periods, and for the more distant period, on written traces of the conflict without taking into consideration data from the mid 20th century. While it is true that there were a limited number of them, the interviews conducted for the more recent period with people who remember the events go some way in completing our timeline. For example, they make it possible to corroborate the fact that the same actors are often involved in different conflicts, and that it is mainly former industrial sites that are the arenas for conflicts. These are residential areas with an industrial past that has shaped the site’s physiognomy, areas that now have great potential because of the new opportunities (especially urbanisation opportunities) offered by the Calanques’ setting and attraction for tourists. The stakes and challenges of urban development remain considerable for this space where tensions between financial interests and heritage promotion have been resurfacing on a cyclical basis for over two centuries.

50Our approach offers a perspective of the broader picture, making it easier to determine the factors that influence conflict situations, without, however, identifying all of them or being in a position to describe them in great detail. The dynamics linked to the city and its development have repercussions on the emergence and reinforcement of conflict situations in every period we studied. Identifying conflicts also reveals the existence of definite political stakes as well as democratic issues (public debate through mobilisation). The historical perspective allows us to re-establish these issues in an area-based history in which Marseille’s socio-economic and socio-political context prior to the implementation of an environmental policy is unique and firmly entrenched. This is a factor that resonates in many conflicts, but one that we have not discussed in depth in this article for each period studied. This is a drawback for our analysis and represents a field that remains well worth exploring. However, our study offers insights to identify the elements that play a particularly active role in the dynamics and radicalisation of conflict: the rapport with nature, self-proclaimed “heritage” activities, the feeling of dispossession, distrust, calling into question the space’s uses and other consumption modes, etc. The contribution of sociology, political science and spatial psychology offers rewarding perspectives for a closer, more detailed analysis of the role of certain actors and their social status, especially the associative sector in the early 20th century, the role of attachment to the site, and the shifting alliances with regard to this area, which help clarify certain interactions between conflicts.

51Conflicts are not, then, independent, and we demonstrate here that they do not take place in a vacuum; this is confirmed by Beuret and Cadoret (2014) for the environmental conflicts in France’s major sea ports. We describe some of the interactions among conflict situations that would be worth analysing in greater detail. However, they constitute a useful work basis for research on area-based conflictuality. In addition, our approach offers a number of areas for further discussion about conflict resolution and the National Park’s regulatory capacity that are examined more closely in other studies we have carried out (Cadoret, 2017).

52Our findings show that the conflicts arising in the National Park, revealed and reinforced by its presence, can be traced back to the area’s long history and involve a very wide range of actors on several levels with multiple issues that influence conflicts endogenous to the protected area. Any dialogue to resolve an endogenous conflict is therefore hampered by the external elements that drive it: it takes time to find solutions for conflicts that are endogenous to the park, which can exacerbate distrust for the institution. These elements play a role in the acceptability of protection measures and the National Park’s legitimacy, confirming our hypothesis that it is crucial to take area-based issues exogenous to the National Park area into consideration when seeking a sustainable resolution of environmental conflicts. Viewing the issue over a long period of time also teaches us that resolving conflicts exogenous to the protected area would imply a shift in the established order.

53This leads us one the one hand to draw attention to the need for decision-makers to take the complexities of interactions among conflicts into consideration when resolving them, along with the importance of a historical perspective to grasp them, and on the other hand, to emphasise that resolving these conflicts requires coordination between the city’s policies, including for health, transport, etc. and elected representatives in order to shift the positions of an established order, the flaws of which are revealed by such conflicts.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1 – Photos of the Marseille Calanques Massif
File image/png, 8.0M
Title Map 1 – The Calanques National Park
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Title Map 2 – Industrial sites identified in the Calanques
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Title Figure 2 – The mass demonstration in Port-Miou, 1910 (Coll. Bernard Paoli)
File image/jpeg, 440k
Title Map 3 – Sites and disputed locations mentioned in local daily press articles relating to a conflict (1988-2012)
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Title Figure 3 – Conflictual issues since the National Park’s creation in 2012, in La Provence, La Marseillaise newspaper (2012-2016)
Credits © Source: Cadoret, EFFIJIE
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Title Map 4 – Endogenous and exogenous conflicts in the Calanques National Park or nearby
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Electronic reference

Anne Cadoret and Xavier Daumalin, « Environmental conflictuality in the Marseille-Cassis Calanques: background, challenges and resolution », Articulo - Journal of Urban Research [Online], 16 | 2017, Online since 30 November 2017, connection on 18 December 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/articulo.3244

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About the authors

Anne Cadoret

Anne Cadoret, lecturer in Geography and Territorial Development in Aix-Marseille University, member of the Research Unit TELEMMe (Temps, Espaces, Langages, Europe Méridionale, Méditerranée), Maison méditerranéenne des sciences de l’homme (MMSH), 5 place du château de l’Horloge, 13094 Aix-en-Provence Cedex 2, France, specializing in the analysis of land use conflicts and the dynamics of the concertation to the environment, her last works concern the coastal zone protected areas. Email:

Xavier Daumalin

Xavier Daumalin, Professor of contemporary History in Aix-Marseille University, Director of the Research Unit TELEMMe (Temps, Espaces, Langages, Europe Méridionale, Méditerranée), Maison méditerranéenne des sciences de l’homme (MMSH), 5 place du château de l’Horloge, 13094 Aix-en-Provence Cedex 2, France, specialist of economic history, his recent researchs concern more particularly industrial pollutions of the coast from Marseille. Email:

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