Institute of Geography and Sustainability of the University of Lausanne
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Ethnography of the Rearrangements of Sensitive, Ritualized and Aesthetic Relationships with the High Alpine Mountains

Research fields Environmental humanities
Cultures and natures of tourism
Margins, environment, landscapes
Keywords Alps
Climate Change
High Mountain
More-than-human Relationships
Alternative Spiritualities
Funding SNSF
Duration October 2021 - September 2022
Researchers Boisvert Valérie (Supervision) [email]
Chamel Jean (Scientific collaborator) [web] [email]
Hess Gérald (Research Advisory) [web] [email]
Reynard Emmanuel (Research Advisory) [web] [email]
Tola Miriam (Research Advisory) [email]

As a result of global warming, glaciers retreat is accelerating and rocks collapses are multiplying in the high mountains. This geological collapse is disrupting the Alpine landscape and leading to another collapse, that of the perception of these mountains. At the same time, other forms of relationship to them, such as the recent funeral ceremonies for vanishing glaciers, are emerging. Socio-cultural transformations, which concern the imaginary, emotions, aesthetics, and sensitive and ritualised practices in the face of these collapses, are in process.

People who share a sensitive and affective relationship with the mountains of the Mont Blanc range and the Valais Alps: guides, crystal diggers, glaciologists, mountaineers, huts keepers, photographers, artists, etc. express feelings of loss and sadness, but also develop new forms of interrelationships with the mountains and with specific places/beings as ways to overcome their “mourning".

The first observations of concrete situations of interactions, such as (micro-) rituals, with specific entities like glaciers and the documentation of the changing aesthetic perceptions of a mountain which is disintegrating show that the reactions are not uniform: while some persons are touched by what is lost, draw direct links with a perspective of societal collapse and emphasize the negative consequences of climate and landscape changes, others tend to focus more on adaptation, in terms of practice but also of perception and relationship. The modernist divide between the humans and their environment can then give place to other entanglements with the mountains, with for instance more direct relationships that can be related to animism. Time scales is also a crucial issue, with huge differences of perspectives when timeframes are considered at geological, humanity or individual levels.

Laurence Piaget-Dubuis, The couple, Rhone Glacier, 2014, www.matterofchange.org