Accepted Paper:

The magic(ians) of snowflakes: climate change, techniques of 'snow reliability', and bodily desires on the European alpine glaciers  


Herta Nöbauer (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the control of uncertainty on the Austrian Alpine glaciers. It argues that 'snow reliability' and a wider specific loop of insecurity and security shaped by manifold actors and desires play a fundamental role in managing the Alpine environment.

Paper long abstract:

My paper explores the control of multiple uncertainties in the Austrian Alpine glaciers. The latter have been considered as being dangerous, worthy of respect, and simultaneously attractive by the local population and alpinists for a long time. Today they are exposed to manifold changes and contestations: Ahead of all they have been turned into attractive sites for global all-season event tourism and important training places for skiing teams. At the same time, Alpine glaciers are dramatically retreating as an effect of climate change and thus have increasingly become a focus of environmental scientists and environmentalists. On the other hand, glaciers have been strongly promoted as representing the last reservation for providing natural 'snow reliability' by the tourist and sports industry in the past few decades. In fact, snow, this form of 'natural' and climate 'security' is literally melting away in the mountain regions. Providing and promising 'snow reliability' therfore has turned into a, if not the key hot slogan of the competitive tourist industry. Employing global technology for snow making plays a crucial role for granting the promise of 'snow reliability' even on the glaciers. As I will argue this all-around present technology is extensively entangled with the Alpine environment and human bodies; it is transformed into a hybrid.

Tracing examples from my current ethnographic research on a glacier in the region of Tyrol I furthermore argue that there is even a wider specific loop of security and insecurity which is shaped by manifold actors and capitalist, political and cultural desires such as global technology and economy, tourist industry, bodily desires for risk and fun, scientific discourses, and environmentalist interests. Together these interfere in decisive and often contradicting ways.

Panel W099
How to tame, play or skirt environmental uncertainties?