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Controversies linked to high socioenvironmental impact projects have multiplied in the last decade. Given the exponential escalation of these social license to operate (SLO)[1] challenges, first discussed by practitioners and institutions such as the World Bank (Cooney, 2017), many academics have recently begun to examine SLO (Brueckner & Eabrasu, 2018; Demajorovic, Lopes, & Santiago, 2019). Ample management research has shed light on the SLO process and its related issues (e.g., the critical review by Gehman, Lefsrud, & Fast, 2017).

The SLO literature generally comprises four research streams: conceptualization of SLO through definitions and typologies (Batellier, 2015; Brueckner & Eabrasu, 2018; Fournis & Fortin, 2015; Gehman et al., 2017), tools and strategies to develop SLO, most often following a static and instrumental approach (Bice, Brueckner, & Pforr, 2017; Boutilier & Zdziarski, 2017; Ofori & Ofori, 2019), theorization of SLO according to a dynamic process approach (Di Maddaloni & Davis, 2017; Joy, Eileen, Norma, & Zhi, 2017; Smits, Leeuwen, & Tatenhove, 2017), and questioning the concept of SLO from a critical perspective (Brueckner & Eabrasu, 2018; Gendron, 2014; Raufflet, 2014; Syn, 2014).

Characterized by fairly rapid qualitative and quantitative development (Brueckner & Eabrasu, 2018; Gehman et al., 2017), this body of literature is often criticized for its linear and firm-centred view of SLO, which is conceptualized as a “product” or “resource” to obtain (Baba & Raufflet, 2015; Gendron, 2014; Ofori & Ofori, 2019). This firm-centrism orients the literature mainly toward “best practices,” which impedes a more holistic vision of SLO. With scant exceptions (e.g., Fortin & Fournis, 2014; Fournis & Fortin, 2015), territory as a conceptual object is absent from discussions of SLO. Yet this research problem is pertinent in that many recent studies have underlined the importance of territorial anchoring of SLO issues (Fortin & Fournis, 2014; Fournis & Fortin, 2015; Fournis, Mbaye, & Guy, 2016), notably due to relational legacies, i.e., territorially anchored historical events that colour contemporary relations between local communities and project promoters (Baba & Raufflet, 2015).

This article therefore aims to shed light on these territorial dynamics of SLO and on the concept of relational legacies, which appears useful to capture SLO trajectories. Specifically, we investigate indigenous contexts that, due to their sociopolitical struggles dating back over a century, clearly illustrate the importance of relational legacies in SLO issues linked to development projects (Banerjee, 2000; Costanza, 2016; Whiteman, 2009). By construing relational legacies as an important dimension of SLO trajectories (Baba & Raufflet, 2015), we can better understand the mechanisms that explain their emergence and resurgence. This article thus poses the following research question: What types of relational legacies influence the SLO process, and through which mechanisms?

To answer this research question, we adopt a qualitative methodology based on an extreme case study (Yin, 2003). Inspired by proximity economics (Zimmerman, 2005, 2008), we analyze a socio-environmental controversy linked to a landfill facility in the municipality of Illoula Oumalou, in Tizi-Ouzou, Algeria. This empirical analysis makes a twofold contribution to the SLO and stakeholder management literature. First, we propose a typology of four forms of relational legacies: definitive, dormant, semi-direct and indirect. Second, we theorize two mechanisms through which these relational legacies influence the SLO process: mobilization of the collective memory and reification of the territory. These contributions jointly open new perspectives linked to spatiotemporal anchoring of SLO issues in high impact projects.

Literature Review

Social License to Operate Trajectories and The Importance of Relational Legacies

SLO has drawn considerable attention in the academic literature in the past decade (Gehman et al., 2017; Raufflet et al., 2013). Consequently, definitions of SLO have multiplied, yet no consensus has been reached (Batellier, 2016a; Brueckner & Eabrasu, 2018). In parallel, SLO issues have amplified considerably given the prevailing dichotomy between two visions of development (Yates, 2018). In the first vision, public authorities hold decision power in managing the common good and large project development, without real participation by diverse stakeholders. Alternatively, in a more participatory vision of territorial development and management of the common good, the stakeholders involved are consulted, mobilized and included in decision-making regarding large-scale development projects.

The literature presents at least two conceptions of SLO and stakeholder engagement. The first is a static vision that suggests that obtaining SLO mainly results from “good practices” and the application of specific techniques and tools (Bice et al., 2017; McIntyre, Murphy, & Sirsly, 2015). This vision of SLO often focuses on the initial steps of projects (Raufflet, 2014). Accordingly, many recent studies have evaluated stakeholders’ influence on construction projects (Heravi, Coffey, & Trigunarsyah, 2015), stakeholder classification (Aaltonen, Jaakko, & Tuomas, 2008), formulation of responses to stakeholders’ requests (Eskerod & Vaagaasar, 2014), determination of stakeholders’ importance (Boutilier & Zdziarski, 2017), stakeholders’ perception of projects and performance indicators (Davis, 2014), and the formulation of a measure of SLO (Prno & Slocombe, 2014; Richert, Rogers, & Burton, 2015). In this vision, good practices intended to obtain product approval in the short term tend to dominate our thinking about SLO. The literature suggests that many businesses still struggle to make SLO a strategic issue within the organization, i.e., an issue requiring sufficient resources, structures and expertise (Kemp & Owen, 2013).

The second, more recent, vision of SLO notably explores the often sinuous processes of developing and maintaining SLO over time (Raufflet, 2014; Rooney, Leach, & Ashworth, 2014; Syn, 2014; Wolsink, 2018). Accordingly, SLO is a social construction to which various stakeholders contribute (Baba, 2016). As Wolsink explains (2018, p. 290), “social acceptance is complex and dynamic, as it is a process.” Rather than suggesting that a universal practice necessarily generates greater SLO of projects, proponents of this process view of SLO are more interested in the temporal and historical dimension of it, and in the need to position business–community relations in a long-term sustainable development perspective (Raufflet, 2014). Among recent developments, some studies that consider social acceptance as a co-construction process between actors have adopted a process perspective as opposed to a static, firm-centred vision (Cui, Jo, & Velasquez, 2016; Dare, Schirmer, & Vanclay, 2014). Other works in this stream have explored the role of values, norms and social representations in the SLO process (Karimi & Toikka, 2014; Kim & Kim, 2015; Ruckstuhl, Thompson-Fawcett, & Rae, 2014).

Therefore, this conception of SLO departs from the idea that “good practices” guarantee SLO. Rather, it advocates contextualization of trajectories and SLO processes, thus focusing on clarifying stakeholders’ interests. Among the many studies that adopt this process vision, Heravi et al. (2015) looked at stakeholder involvement in the construction project planning process. In their study of an information system project, Missonier and Loufrani-Fedida (2014, p. 1108) suggest that the network actor approach “improves stakeholders’ analysis of and engagement in a project by shedding light on the dynamic and emergent nature of the relationships, since we demonstrate that the nature, roles, and relations between stakeholders co-evolve with the project’s definition and trajectory.”

In line with the recently emerged process and dynamic approach to SLO (Fournis & Fortin, 2015), Baba and Raufflet (2015, p. 99) underlined the importance of relational legacies in SLO trajectories, defined as “the imprint of past relations on present and future relations, and its impact on the quality of relations.” Their empirical analysis of a controversial hydroelectric project showed that relational legacies between a company and local communities can compromise the SLO of a project, even if the business adopts good practices in consulting and engaging local communities. Events that date back decades may thus resurface and compromise project implementation. This argument implicitly refers to the works that define SLO in terms of territorial analysis (Fournis & Fortin, 2015). Fortin and Fournis (2014, p. 231) proposed an “ascending definition of social acceptance” by considering SLO as a “process of political evaluation of a sociotechnical project, involving multiple actors at various scales, who gradually build arrangements and institutional rules recognized as legitimate because they are coherent with the vision of the territory and the development model favoured by the actors concerned.”

These studies emphasize the need to expand the spectrum of actors involved in development projects beyond the business-community dualism, in order to integrate multiple issues linked to the territory concerned by the project. Nonetheless, works on relational legacies and the role of territory in SLO trajectories rarely differentiate between types of relational legacies. The direct influence of the legacies on SLO trajectories is also underexplored. Yet many studies implicitly show the importance of sociopolitical issues, often anchored in a particular territory, in SLO dynamics (Batellier, 2016b; Boiral, Heras-Saizarbitoria, & Brotherton, 2019; Ruckstuhl et al., 2014; Baba et al., 2016).

Perspective Based On Territorial Anchoring of Social License to Operate Trajectories

To clarify territorial issues related to SLO, notably by analyzing relational legacies, we build on the field of proximity economics (Torre, 2009; Torre & Zuindeau, 2008). Indeed, the issue of interagent coordination has been theorized by proximity economists, who reject the vision of corporate nomadism (Bouba-Olga & Grossetti, 2008; Zimmerman, 2005, 2008). Torre (2009, p. 63) considers “the question of the spatial dimension and geography” crucial in that the social and environmental issues are “inseparably linked to the characteristics, soil formation and composition of the territory in which they take shape or occur.” This stance rejects the postulate that organizations are unaffected by territorial anchoring (Colletis, Gianfaldoni, & Richez-Battesti, 2005; Torre & Rallet, 2005; Torre & Zuindeau, 2008; Zimmerman, 2008).

It is important to distinguish two main types of proximity (Torre & Rallet, 2005; Torre & Zuindeau, 2009). The first type, geographical or territorial, “translates the distance in kilometres between two entities (individuals, organizations, cities)” (Torre & Zuindeau, 2009, p. 350). The second form of proximity, labelled organized or relational, relates to the firm’s capacity to establish relations and interactions with its stakeholders (Torre & Zuindeau, 2009). Proximity economics argues that geographical proximity alone is insufficient to ensure the sustainability of operations, and that organized proximity, based on relations of cooperation and solidarity ties, must be cultivated (Torre, 2009; Torre & Zuindeau, 2009; Zimmerman, 2008). Organized proximity favours development and collaboration between actors, whereas its absence can trigger conflict situations (Bouba-Olga, Boutry, & Rivaud, 2009, p. 384). This perspective seems well suited to the study of industries in which territory is crucial, such as natural resources. These industries must anchor their activities in a specific territory, and relocation is difficult (Friedl & Reichl, 2016; Ruckstuhl et al., 2014). For instance, Torre and Zuindeau (2009) highlight the value of an approach based on proximity (territorial and organized) to capture ecological issues.

However, the literature on proximity economics is fairly silent on the long-term construction process of organized proximity. Similarly, it tends to consider territorial proximity simply as distance between stakeholders, disregarding the sociopolitical dimension. Indeed, a territory may be marked by social, political, cultural, and economic tensions and struggles. This article clarifies the process through which relational legacies, anchored in a specific territory, influence organized proximity. We adopt a broader vision of territory beyond simple distance between actors, whereby territory is “not simply a forum for debate,” but truly “an arena where social groups harbouring diverging interests and representations clash” (Palard, 2003, p. 318).


This research rests on an abductive qualitative approach, in which theoretical knowledge and empirical findings from the data are compared iteratively (Golden-Biddle, 2019). From an interpretive epistemological stance, the study thus considers that reality is socially constructed by the actors concerned (Gehman et al., 2018). The research thus follows an exploratory approach toward processes and dynamics little explored in the literature, to support the qualitative approach adopted (Patton, 2002). The qualitative approach is particularly useful for research on social processes that ask questions beginning with “how” and “why” (Miles & Huberman, 1994). To conduct this qualitative research, we relied on an extreme single-case study (Yin, 2003).

Case selection The creation of a landfill facility (LF) in Boubehir, in the municipality of Illoula Oumalou (province of Tizi Ouzou, Algeria), constitutes a pertinent case for two reasons. First, it exemplifies a controversy between local communities and the project promoters. When local mobilizations prevented the execution of the project, the authorities first relented, and then called in the armed forces. This action stoked the opposition, exacerbated the conflicting relations between the stakeholders, and ultimately led to the abandonment of the project in 2012.

Second, this case is also illustrative because the project unfolded in a village in Kabylie, whose historical, cultural, and sociopolitical distinctiveness is fertile ground for the exploration of different types of relational legacies (Chaker & Doumane, 2006). Indeed, the sociopolitical history of the region is marked by numerous social mobilizations, arguably the most important since Algerian independence in 1962. This history partly explains the emergence of multiple relational legacies, linked to social, economic, institutional, political, and other forms of dissatisfaction. More specifically, the indigenous communities of Kabylie have constantly been demanding recognition and valorization of their indigenous status, and often use mobilization as a means of expression.

Data collection Our qualitative study is based on primary and secondary data, which allow us to triangulate the research and ensure its reliability (Patton, 2002). First, we collected secondary data to familiarize ourselves with the landfill project in Tizi-Ouzou. The primary data gathered were used for triangulation with the secondary sources, to bring out new elements that could deepen our understanding of the case. The data were collected between November 2014 and June 2016, in a context where local authorities were still attempting to negotiate with the local communities to launch the ILF project. Relocation of the project due to insufficient SLO was another option. When we met with the respondents, many actors were still strongly affected by this controversy. Tensions had not yet abated when the interviews were conducted, and any “foreigner” in the region was perceived as an emissary of the promoter. Consequently, extensive relational work was done to allay respondents’ suspicion about our research.

Secondary data Secondary data were mainly used to establish a chronology of major events and identify the stakeholders involved in this controversy. Specifically, we performed a systematic review by keywords in the main Algerian electronic media. We also consulted numerous national press articles and reports from the ministry of water resources and the environment, the national waste agency, the provincial environment department of Tizi Ouzou (Ministère des Ressources en Eau et de l’Environnement, Agence Nationale des Déchets, la Direction de l’Environnement), and the municipality of Illoula Oumalou. These reports and articles provided key insight into the dynamics surrounding the ILF project in Boubehir, including identifying the stakeholders, their arguments and sources of conflict. These secondary data also served to clarify the technical, environmental and economic dimensions of the project. However, despite their considerable contribution to this research, government reports did not allow us to grasp the importance of some key events or to understand the influence, analyses, emotions and stances of various stakeholders. Although the press articles were more useful in this respect, the primary data undeniably helped us grasp the phenomenon studied.

PrimaryData To deepen the understanding of the controversy we gained from secondary data, we decided to gather primary data. In total, 22 semi-structured interviews with various stakeholders were conducted: senior managers with the Ministry of Water Resources and the Environment, senior managers with the provincial Water Resources and the Environment Department, senior managers with the national waste agency, employees of the firm responsible for the project, elected officials of the intermunicipal people’s assembly (Assemblée populaire communale) of Illoula Oumalou, and members of various village committees in the municipality of Illoula Oumalou. These interviews were all done in person, mostly in Arabic and occasionally in French.

These interviews let us identify new key actors involved in this project and to understand their intentions, interests, and arguments. The first interviews helped us understand the controversy. As the data collection advanced, discussions with respondents evolved such that information obtained in each interview enabled us to refine the questions asked at the next interview, until we achieved a satisfactory saturation rate (Patton, 2002). We interviewed employees and top managers of six important project stakeholders: the ministry of water resources and the environment, the environment department of the province of Tizi Ouzou, the national waste agency, the project management group in charge of feasibility studies, the executing business, and the intermunicipal people’s assembly of Illoula Oumalou. We also interviewed members of several village committees of the municipality involved, and residents of communities near the project site. For confidentiality reasons linked to the extreme nature of the case studied (Hällgren, Rouleau, & Rond, 2018), the positions of respondents interviewed are not mentioned. Interviews lasted between 40 and 90 minutes.

Data analysis Data were analyzed using an abductive and iterative process between the literature and the data gathered (Golden-Biddle, 2019). First, we established a chronology of the detailed narrative of the project, without a particular time delineation, to trace the key events of the project. We focused on the following phases: announcement, implementation, conditions of the first stoppage, public authorities’ attempt to restart the project, and the permanent abandonment of the project. This first step enabled us to categorize the data along four dimensions: (1) project description (2) consultation and engagement process (3) the nature of the controversy, and (4) motivations, justifications and positions of stakeholders concerned.

Table 1

Empirical materials and their use in the analysis

Empirical materials and their use in the analysis

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In the second step of the analysis we used the iterative comparison technique (Miles & Huberman, 1994) to identify elements that might be connected to relational legacies. These elements were grouped in tables to distinguish forms of relational legacies and understand their influence on the SLO process.

In the third and final step of our analysis, we performed axial coding of the data to identify abstract concepts based on the categories identified above, inspired by the qualitative data analysis approach of Gioia, Corley, and Hamilton (2012). We thus identified three main dimensions linked to the SLO process studied: the project and its promoter, prior experiences, and the local sociopolitical identity. Figure 1 presents the data analysis structure and the conceptual abstraction process.

Figure 1

Data analysis and analytical categories

Data analysis and analytical categories

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Empirical Context: The Case of the Landfill Facility in Tizi Ouzou, Algeria

This research, we said, rests on the analysis of a case of citizen mobilization against the proposed construction of an ILF in the province of Tizi Ouzou. An ILF is a facility classified for environmental protection that receives household waste, which it buries in landfill cells. In Algeria, ILFs are set up according to a standard of 100,000 inhabitants per centre, for an operating duration of over 20 years. Because of their environmental implications, ILFs are subject to rigorous regulation. Their location and implementation are governed by an authorization permit established by an order from the Wali[2] with territorial jurisdiction over that site.

Waste management is a national priority in Algeria. Similar to other emerging countries, Algeria went from illegal dumpsites to controlled dumping, and eventually to the use of landfill facilities. This progression was propelled by awareness of environmental protection and the need for integrated management of solid urban waste. The trend accentuated around the turn of the 21st century. Since 2002, appreciable progress was achieved following the introduction of regulatory measures combined with training and awareness activities directed at the technical services of local communities and waste managers. This priority program has targeted the creation of 122 ILFs, 146 controlled landfills, 32 collection centres, 29 sorting centres, 54 class 3 ILFs for inert waste, and the rehabilitation of 40 illegal dumpsites.

In the Wilaya of Tizi Ouzou, our empirical context, waste management is particularly problematic for public authorities due to insufficient financial means and management training, and unclear guidelines. Regarding the cleaning of public roads, the Tizi Ouzou authorities confirmed serious shortages notably linked to deficient and dilapidated waste recovery facilities. The Tizi Ouzou province was facing similar problems with its waste treatment facilities. Regarding waste elimination conditions, the general situation was worrisome, even if efforts had been made in recent years to organize the landfilling of municipal waste. A partial inventory compiled by the provincial Environment Department in 2015 noted deficient urban waste management linked mainly to insufficient ILFs.

This situation has spawned multiple illegal dumpsites. The 1,500 dumps counted cover an estimated total of 75 hectares. These dumps are intended for household waste, yet waste coming from economic activities and healthcare centres, including anatomical waste, are dumped there illegally, in violation of the regulations. These illegal dump sites have been observed notably in urban and roadside settings (1,475 dumps), and in forests (25 dumps). They are a major potential cause of environmental pollution and forest fires. To combat this scourge, the region was selected for the implementation of 7 major ILFs. Of the 7 ILFs projected, three are operational today, and one is under construction. The three remaining ILFs, in Boubehir, Mizrana and Fréha were intended to serve over 20 municipalities yet were opposed by the citizens. Collectively, these facilities would have covered 50 municipalities, or 75% of those in the province. The urgency of this investment for the public authorities thus stands in sharp contrast with the slow execution, and especially the cancellation, of the other ILF projects due to SLO issues. The next section focuses on the citizen mobilization that forced the local authorities to cancel the ILF in the village of Boubehir.

Results: Analysis of the Landfill Facility in the Village of Boubehir, Tizi Ouzou

The contract of about C$2 million[3] to implement the ILF project in Boubehir was awarded to Amenhyd SPA, a firm that studies and executes hydraulic structures and environmental development projects. Scheduled along a seven-month horizon, work began on September 16, 2009. In January 2010, a group of villagers sabotaged the works by setting fire to both the technical office on the worksite and the gas tank. The workers also received physical threats, which led work to be suspended.

Hoping to change the opponents’ minds, the territorial authorities launched awareness and communication campaigns. However, the 16 village committees rejected these belated initiatives, and remained staunchly opposed to the project. In October 2012, given the pressing need to finalize the project in order to alleviate the shortage of ILF in the region, public authorities used the armed forces to restore the worksite and restart the work. Consequently, the opposition movement radicalized, imposing a sit-in at the project site on November 14, 2012. Residents of Boubehir and of 11 other villages thus demanded the relocation of the ILF, nothing less. On November 26, additional acts of sabotage at the worksite precluded the continuation of the work.

The data gathered underscore that local authorities’ reactions barely appeared in the media, especially regarding mediation. Thus, coverage was limited to local populations’ claims and protests. This inertia was echoed at the two other ILFs (situated in Boghni and Fréha), which remained blocked for the same reasons. Below we analyze the SLO issues related to implementation of the ILF project by emphasizing the reasons why the inhabitants of Boubehir rejected the project. Table 2 provides quotes from interviewees that support our analysis.

Emergence of Tensions Linked to the Project and Its Promoter

Our empirical analysis indicates that the rejection of the Boubehir ILF project mainly stems from a perceived lack of consultation of local stakeholders, and by environmental risks perceived by local communities.

A contested consultation approach Selection of the ILF site followed an expropriation procedure in the public interest. In October 2009 the property owners received compensation equivalent to C$80,000: “under the pretext that this project is in the public interest, many of us learned that our land would be confiscated! They did not ask our approval, they simply advised us to look for another permanent site” (LCM4[4]). The initial opposition entailed questioning the approach adopted. Accordingly, property owners initiated legal proceedings against the property assessment done by the Domain Land service, while others contested the expropriation procedure, invoking reasons of attachment to the legacy of their ancestors, together with environmental concerns.

Our analysis suggests that no impact study of the environment or of social and health risks was conducted for this project: “unfortunately there was no trace of a study of the impact on the environment, and especially on society, for this project…maybe there was a rush given the national issue of waste management infrastructures” (LA3). In fact, because ILFs are considered classified facilities, regulatory provisions require impact studies and a public inquiry with local stakeholders. The opponents also highlighted the absence of communication or popularization of the project before its launch, apart from unproductive meetings organized with representatives of different village committees. The lack of transparency also apparently raised fears about the environmental and health effects of the ILF: “It’s not a consultation process, but an information process about a fait accompli! All we learned is that we would have to leave our land” (LCM2). The project management office acknowledges that consultations could have been planned better: “when we planned the project, we did not have a particular mandate to consult local communities… this was a major gap. We see it now” (PMO1). The builder chosen by the project promoter thought that there was no obligation to consult local communities: “when the public authorities grant you a public contract, you assume that the necessary steps have been taken with the local populations…if we knew the facts, we could have reacted differently” (PB1).

Risks and impacts perceived negatively. The perceived risks and impacts on the environment and health were pointed out by local community members: “ILFs are renowned for their negative impacts on several levels… air and soil pollution, which may cause severe illnesses” (LCM6). In addition to toxic emissions, opponents feared contamination of a neighbouring river, air quality, noxious odours, and impacts on soil quality. The experience of the Oued Falli ILF in the same province demonstrated deficient technological expertise and day-to-day management issues.

Further, the project was launched despite the stipulations of Executive Order 07-145, which bans all construction or implementation of projects subject to a study or impact statement, before their approval. The interviewees also mentioned uncertainties linked to devaluation of agricultural land, accentuated by urbanization, which was expanding in the valleys due to demographic growth in the region. One area specifically affected was tree production, which is an age-old form of cultivation in the region: “The agricultural potential of the region is impressive. God has given us this gift, and we are ruining it. The local authorities should help us valorize these natural riches instead of destroying the environment with a garbage collection centre” (LCM2). Tree farming is indeed quite important in the village of Illoula Oumalou. Lastly, the intermunicipal scope of the project also generated opposition in the community of Boubehir, because the ILF was intended to process the garbage of nine neighbouring municipalities.

Table 2

Empirical illustrations[5][6]

Empirical illustrations56

Table 2 (continuation)

Empirical illustrations56

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Competency of services and promoter’s reputation questioned. Although the environmental impacts of this type of project were known, the territorial authorities did not provide any guarantees during meetings with residents, according to the local communities. Local communities distrusted the authorities’ verbal commitments to consider their grievances and issues: “the local authorities quickly understood that the situation was worrisome and that the concerns of local communities were reasonable and legitimate” (LA3). The lack of transparency that preceded the work, and the inability of the provincial environmental department to manage this type of project effectively, similar to the case of the Oued Fali ILF, also led local communities to reject the project: “The environmental department of Tizi Ouzou repeatedly demonstrated its inability to manage large-scale projects. It was even less capable of honouring its commitments! The example of Oued Fali is instructive…go talk to them!” (LCM1)

The promoter’s lack of expertise and recurrent delays in implementing similar projects also amplified social mobilization and the concerns of local populations. These mobilizations were also fuelled by a general distrust in the public authorities: “The public authorities have demonstrated their incompetency for years. How can we trust them for this project?…if they couldn’t prove themselves elsewhere, they won’t do it here” (LCM4). In contrast, the national waste agency claimed that it “deployed considerable technical and financial resources to ensure the success of this crucial project for the Wilaya and the municipality in question” (LA2).

Influence of Experiences in the Community of Boubehir

Our analysis suggests that the rejection of the ILF project in Boubehir was strongly motivated by experiences in the community and the reactions that followed.

Previous projects in neighbouring communities. The failures related to the Oued Fali ILF sparked a negative reaction among local communities, along with suspicion and prejudices about the harmful effects of such projects. Therefore, beyond the project put forth on the territory of Boubehir, the image projected by ILFs—derived from similar projects in the same Wilaya—raised concern in the local communities: “although the ILF project proposed was excellent on paper, the reality we observed nearby is quite different. Our anxiety goes beyond this particular project…it is based on our neighbour’s experience! It’s our neighbours who urged us to reject this project!” (LCM6). These worries also propelled a solidarity movement between local neighbouring communities that culminated in a large demonstration on November 14, 2012, in which the inhabitants of 11 villages marched to the project site to demand its relocation. This march particularly signalled that the communities affected were supported by those of Mizrana and Fréha, where ILF projects were also blocked by citizen opposition:

“Our mobilization and concerns are not linked to emotions, as the authorities seem to suggest. Further, all the neighbouring villages supported our approach and even came to march with us. More importantly, the communities that hosted such projects supported us and helped us express our opposition.”


Dissatisfaction linked to previous projects in the community. Mobilization of the community of Boubehir was reinforced by relational legacies of previous projects that had negative consequences, accentuated by the lack of transparency that characterized the initial project implementation process. Attempts to dialogue with and involve populations could not bolster SLO, because the issues surrounding the first attempt were not resolved, from the community’s standpoint.

“It’s true that we received more consideration and information after we successfully blocked the project the first time. That said, it was too late. The first false start tarnished the relationship, and it was difficult to go back. It was hard to see how to deal with the disappointment generated by the first attempt to launch the construction.”


This mobilization was also driven by relational legacies between the community of Boubehir and neighbouring communities, on the one hand, and with public authorities on the other hand, regarding development projects previously aborted due to strong mobilization. The tensions caused by these unresolved negative experiences thus influenced the local communities’ perceptions of the project: “Our view of projects like this is also based on our past experiences with large-scale projects and those of our neighbours. Not necessarily an ILF, but projects with major impacts. History is repeating itself…” (LCM1)

Influence of Local Sociopolitical Identity

Lastly, our analysis suggests that the sociopolitical realities of the municipality of Illoula Oumalou, and more generally that of the Wilaya of Tizi Ouzou, played a pivotal role in the SLO trajectory.

Tensions anchored in global dissatisfaction with regional development. This ILF project was intended to benefit several municipalities other than Illoula Oumalou. However, it would have negatively affected sectors like hydraulics and agriculture. The sensitivity of the region hosting this project, coupled with the population density around the selected site (about 260 inhabitants/km2), sparked fears linked to regional development: “We are worried about unemployment, agricultural development, and access to water. Instead of thinking about these issues, the local authorities proposed a project that would destroy this potential” (LCM5).

These fears are notably anchored in local communities’ more general dissatisfaction with perceived underdevelopment of this region: “when you arrive in a context marked by overwhelming social, political, and economic problems, you sometimes end up paying the price for things that may have nothing to do with you” (PA3). Subsisting almost exclusively from agriculture along with artisanal and commercial activities, the local population values living off the land very highly, given the predominance of agricultural products in the socioeconomic development process of the municipality, notably related to employment. These communities have also long expressed a feeling of being abandoned by the local authorities regarding development: “With all our potential, the authorities never came to see us to stimulate our development, particularly agricultural. It’s too bad! And now they are proposing a project that destroys the environment, the only potential we have left” (LCM9).

Dissatisfaction is also fuelled by broader motivations linked to regional development. Delays in regional development have compromised the legitimacy of local authorities to conduct such a project in the territory: “Despite our potential for tourism, agriculture and livestock farming, we are a disadvantaged region of Algeria. This has gone on for a long time! This project is not a priority, we need to address more urgent problems first” (LCM3). The representatives also think their municipalities offer potential for hosting tourism facilities as part of the development of mountain areas, in addition to the non-negligible potential of agricultural projects in the form of tree planting and livestock grazing.

Dissatisfaction anchored in a local socio-political identity Dissatisfaction among the villages of Boubehir is also anchored in a local identity reality dating far back in Algerian history. This reality is shaped by the ancestral traditions of indigenous communities, which favour local and collective mobilization, and by a controversy-filled history of Kabylie characterized by issues of recognition and prevalence of the Berber heritage in Algeria: “experience shows me that there are controversies all around Algeria, but it’s true that the protests in Kabylie tend to be stronger and more tenacious for historical reasons…the experience of the Boubehir ILF and those of neighbouring communities clearly illustrates this phenomenon” (PA1).

Beyond the identity dimension, the geographical and cultural structure of all the villages in the region also drove strong collective mobilization. Villages in Kabyle society exhibit sociopolitical and economic similarities: the village committee acts as a government with its own values and conventional principles, along with collective solidarity systems. The Kabyle sociopolitical identity, anchored in many forms of opposition and social mobilization against public authorities, also seems to have spurred mobilization in villages in Boubehir.

“Kabylie has always been abandoned: I got the impression between forced Arabization, lack of recognition of our contribution to Algerian heritage and the question of language, I think Kabyles have always had to stand up for their rights. It is these rights and our history that motivate us to rise up for our dignity and oppose this project.”


Therefore, these two characteristics of Kabyle sociopolitical identity seem to drive and motivate, or at least represent a breeding ground for, community mobilization against this project.

Discussion and Conclusion

This study attempted to answer the following research question: What types of relational legacies influence the SLO process, and through which mechanisms? The goal was to deepen our understanding of relational legacies that could crucially influence the SLO trajectories of development projects. By studying the case of a socioenvironmental controversy in Algeria, our study highlights the spatiotemporal dimension as instrumental to SLO. Specifically, this study makes two contributions to the literature, both pertaining to spatiotemporal anchoring of SLO. The first contribution proposes a typology of relational legacies and the second constitutes a discussion of the mechanisms that influence relational legacies.

Expanding our Understanding of Relational Legacies: a Typology of Relational Legacies

We argue that Baba and Raufflet’s (2015) vision of relational legacies is limited because it focuses on the relations between stakeholders directly affected by the project, namely the project promoter and the local communities that were to host the project. Our study suggests that similar issues experienced by other communities exemplify relational legacies that characterize spatiotemporal anchoring of SLO. Similarly, whereas Baba and Raufflet (2014) contend that relational legacies strictly concern the relationship between the local community and the promoter, our study suggests that the issues experienced by the same community with other actors or around various distinct issues of a project can also inform relational legacies. Consequently, we propose a definition of relational legacies that includes and highlights SLO issues from a spatiotemporal perspective: relational legacies refer to unresolved relationship irritants or issues, whether or not they are directly related to the project and community involved, and which may negatively impact the SLO of activities and projects of an organization in a given territory. 

This definition underpins our four forms of relational legacies that characterize the actors involved in the issues: definitive, dormant, semi-direct and indirect. Figure 2 below illustrates these forms.

Figure 2

Typology of relational legacies

Typology of relational legacies

-> See the list of figures

First, definitive relational legacies are most likely to resurface and impact stakeholder relations. This is because these legacies arise from a direct previous interaction between the community and the same project involving an SLO process. When the community concerned previously experienced conflicting relations around the same project, the relational legacies become definitive. Baba and Raufflet (2014) reached this conclusion by examining the case of Rio Tinto Alcan and indigenous communities in British Columbia. Our study shows how, after the project was blocked by the community, the promoter attempted to restart it by bringing in the armed forces. These two moments, i.e., the stoppage and restart, generated intense relational legacies between the community and the promoter.

Second, relational legacies may be dormant when they involve the same project, albeit in neighbouring communities. These legacies are not as risky because the community concerned did not directly face a conflict related to a project requiring SLO. Rather, the relational legacies from neighbouring local communities are transposed. Accordingly, our study suggests that to legitimize its refusal, the community of Boubehir drew on the experience and struggles of neighbouring communities that dealt with similar projects.

Third, relational legacies may be semi-direct if they affect a community involved in an ongoing SLO process, based on earlier events in that community. The semi-direct nature of these legacies stems from the fact that they were not built through the same project, but rather through other ones, or even completely different issues. For example, our study shows that socio-economic and political dissatisfaction in the community of Boubehir is informed by the sense that the region is abandoned by the central public authorities. This deters the community from making compromises inherent in hosting projects with social and environmental impacts. This form of legacy is implicit in Baba and Raufflet’s (2015) study, which shows how conflicting relations between the Québec government and the Cree Nation negatively influenced the community’s attitude toward hydroelectric development projects promoted by Hydro-Québec.

Fourth, relational legacies can be indirect when they are informed by experiences of neighbouring communities regarding other projects than the one that is currently at the heart of the SLO process in the community. For example, a neighbouring community may have experienced a project with strong socioenvironmental impacts. This transposition is thus linked to cases that differ in form (natural resources development, public infrastructures, urban planning, etc.), but are similar in content (strong socio-environmental impact). An example of these indirect relational legacies is when the community of Boubehir harnessed the opposition of neighbouring communities to other types of projects to justify its rejection of the ILF.

Spatiotemporal Anchoring and Mechanisms that Influence Relational Legacies: Collective Memory and Reification of the Territory

This study also contributes to the SLO literature by introducing a process model that traces the mechanisms that influence relational legacies, which deepens our understanding of these legacies, particularly their emergence. Specifically, we argue that through the collective memory and reification of the territory, local communities can mobilize different forms of relational legacies to defend their positions against a major development project. We therefore conceptualize SLO in both time (evolution) and space (territory).

The SLO literature has examined both the temporal and spatial dimensions, but mostly separately. Temporality has been emphasized in several studies (Baba & Raufflet, 2015; Melé & Armengou, 2016; Raufflet, 2014), along with territorial anchoring of SLO problems (Fortin & Fournis, 2014; Fournis & Fortin, 2015). This research suggests that controversy surrounding projects does not uniquely concern the projects per se, but also encompasses fundamentally different visions of land use and development (Fournis & Fortin, 2015; Gendron, 2014; Baba, Sasaki, & Vaara, 2020).

Our research builds on these studies by bridging the temporal and territorial dimensions of SLO. We argue that the territorial dimension is anchored in relational legacies, which allows us to go beyond the purely temporal dimension. Territorial anchoring of relational legacies is therefore naturally linked to the process dimension of SLO because these legacies are gradually constructed and reconstructed by local communities through reification of the territory and the collective memory. SLO issues therefore represent a trajectory that is both anchored in and influenced by the territory and the collective memory of local communities. Figure 3 illustrates this process and the two mechanisms of reification of the territory and the collective memory.

Figure 3

Influence process of relational legacies

Influence process of relational legacies

-> See the list of figures

The study shows that local communities consider the territory to be important, making it a symbol of existence and identification, even negotiation, in their relations with external actors that attempted to implement a change affecting the territory. The case thus exemplifies reification of the territory that not only influences interactions between the communities and project promoters, but also informs their collective memory, in which anchoring becomes a source of motivation in social, political, and economic struggles.

The interweaving of reification of the territory and collective memory leads local communities to mobilize four main factors that constitute relational legacies. The legacies are mainly economic in origin, translating the residents’ dissatisfaction with the consequences of earlier projects. They are also environmental, reflecting retaliation against residual environmental issues from previous projects. The legacies are also social in that they are nurtured by social impacts. For instance, they can be underpinned by failures linked to communication, consultation and engagement processes that cast doubt on opaque and unconventional practices. The final source of relational legacies is specific to the identity of the community and its sociopolitical concerns. It is the form farthest removed from the SLO project, but it is manifested virulently in local communities. When relational legacies are informed by economic, environmental, social, and sociopolitical issues, they may take the form of local mobilization against any development project promoted on the territory, sometimes beyond the rational motivations specific to the project, due to sociopolitical dissatisfaction within the local community.

Contributions to the stakeholder management and proximity economics literatures

Collectively, our discussions of relational legacies and spatiotemporal anchoring of SLO trajectories allow us to make broader contributions to the stakeholder management and proximity economics literature.

First, regarding the stakeholder management literature, fertile ground for exploring the dynamics and social trajectories affecting businesses (Derakhshan, Turner, & Mancini, 2019; Di Maddaloni & Davis, 2017; Pasquero, 2008), this study underlines the importance of businesses’ ability to grasp the dynamic and process aspect of relations with their stakeholders, beyond a static vision anchored in a logic of “getting project approval” (Baba & Raufflet, 2014). We thus rethink the concept of stakeholders: local communities should not be considered merely as isolated stakeholders. Rather, they are often reinforced by alliances with other local communities and environmental groups (see Beaulieu & Pasquero, 2002; Boutilier & Zdziarski, 2017). Further, whereas analysis of stakeholders in the literature focuses on actors, we anchor this analysis in spatiotemporal realities. Thus, each territory has antecedents of social, political, cultural and identity struggles that local communities mobilize through their collective memory. These antecedents are integral to stakeholder dynamics and must therefore be analyzed by considering non-human agents (Barbier & Trépos, 2007).

Our research highlights the limitations of the firm-centred approach, in line with the findings in the stakeholder literature (Pasquero, 2008). The study clearly suggests that businesses must not focus solely on the advantages of their project but must also closely analyze the realities and challenges of each local community and territory in which the project is anchored (Gendron, 2014; Yates & Caron, 2012). This effort requires means and resources to truly listen to local communities (Delannon, Raufflet, & Baba, 2016), and to seek knowledge about the history of their territory.

Lastly, our paper contributes to proximity economics, which underscores the importance of geographical and relational proximity (Torre & Zuindeau, 2009). These authors contend that geographical proximity alone does not suffice to make activities acceptable and enduring. Actors must also strive for relational proximity, based on relations of cooperation and solidarity (Torre, 2009; Torre & Zuindeau, 2009; Zimmerman, 2008). Nonetheless, the process involved in reinforcing this relational (or organized) proximity has been underexplored in the literature. By conceptualizing different forms of relational legacies, our article reflects on the way that relational proximity can be facilitated or hindered by these issues that are at least partly interwoven in territories. Our study also highlights the importance of geography not in terms of proximity, but rather with regard to the intertwining of the reification of the territory and collective memory. We thus highlight the spatiotemporal dimension to clarify “the conditions required for agent coordination,” central to proximity economics (Talbot & Kirat, 2005, p. 9).