Student Spotlight – Roberto Vila-Lage

Visiting Graduate Student (PhD) – University of Victoria

About Roberto:

Roberto Vila-Lage (he/him) is a PhD candidate in Geography at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Galicia, Spain). His research focuses on the study of cooperation across external and internal Spanish borders, with special emphasis on natural protected areas. His thesis discusses the impact of governance and management of biosphere reserves and national parks on internal borderlands (specifically, between autonomous communities in Spain).

Prior to pursuing his doctoral studies, he received a MA in Spatial Planning, Management & Development and a BA in Geography and Spatial Planning from the University of Santiago de Compostela, and a BA in Economics from the University of A Coruña. Roberto is member of Territorial Analysis (ANTE) Research Group and participates in the project HIGHLANDS.3. He joined the BIG team as a visiting graduate student in the fall of 2022.

What is your current research project, and how does it address borders in the 21st century?

I am currently working on my PhD thesis. My research focuses on analyzing the socio-spatial effects produced by the presence of intra-state borders in relation to protected natural areas. Specifically, I am studying biosphere reserves and national parks located just along the boundaries between autonomous communities (i.e. devolved “regions”) in Spain. The objective is to apply the theoretical framework of transboundary conservation, usually conceived around international borders, to internal boundaries and administrative limits. From the methodological point of view, I mainly use qualitative research techniques, such as semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders to grasp their perceptions in regard to boundaries, protected areas and cross-border cooperation.

What motivated you to pursue this project?

The main motivation has been my supervisors: Valerià Paül and Juan M. Trillo-Santamaría. After many years researching on the Galician-Portuguese border, they identified the need to study internal borders between autonomous communities in Spain. Thanks to their strong support, and the funding from the Ministry of Universities, I was able to initiate this project.

Where do you see your project having the most impact?

In general terms, I would like it to help to reflect on the importance of and effects produced by intra-state borders in decentralized countries, as is the case in Spain. More specifically, although I am not very optimistic about it, I would like it to promote effective cooperation and coordination mechanisms to facilitate the management of cross-border protected natural areas in Spain.

What has your fellowship with BIG allowed you to do that you might not have done otherwise?

There is no doubt that the highlight has been meeting the excellent team of the BiG and the CFGS of the University of Victoria. It is an exceptional environment for carrying out research. My stay also allowed me to do field work on the border between British Columbia and Alberta and to enjoy of the stunning landscapes of the Rocky Mountains.

What are your plans for after your PhD?

I do not really know how many times a day I ask myself this question… Honestly, after my PhD, I would like to have the opportunity to develop a postdoctoral project linked to borders studies that allows me to continue developing my research career.

What is one non-academic book that you think everybody should read and why?

Recently I read an interesting book that I have recommended to a few friends. Its title, taken from a painting by Paul Klee, is The Twittering Machine. I especially like this book because its author, Richard Seymour, analyzes and reflects in an excellent way on the toxic relationship we have with social networks and the social industry.

Student Spotlight - Roberto Vila-Lage