Accepted paper:

Return of the wolves in Switzerland: Alpine visions between cultural landscape and ecosystem

Authors:

Elisa Frank (University of Zurich)
Peter Nikolaus Heinzer (Universit├Ąt Z├╝rich)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses Swiss wolf debates by focusing on two visions of the Alps: Cultural Landscape and Ecosystem. We elaborate three analytical dimensions (functionalising, practical vs. theoretical knowledge, spatial-temporal horizons) that help understand negotiations of modern Alpine societies.

Paper long abstract:

In the face of wolves' return to Switzerland, the official stance is to facilitate a coexistence between man, livestock and the predator; meanwhile, sheep breeders see the wolf as a threat to their traditional practices and lifestyles. Thus, the wolf can be seen to accentuate ongoing socio-economic changes, nurturing typically Swiss debates about centralism and federalism, political paternalism, urban-rural or highland-lowland dynamics, and the depopulation of the mountains. In this paper we focus on the visions of the Swiss Alps that are being negotiated in this context and propose to look at the two concepts of Cultural Landscape and the Ecosystem. Focusing on these two different (but not opposite) ways of understanding the alpine surroundings we analyse the debates evolving around the return of the wolves from a perspective that aims at mapping out common elements shared throughout a broad variety of actors. As a result, we elaborate three analytical dimensions: Actors a) functionalise natural surroundings as circular, interdependently functioning systems; actors b) move between practical/experience-based and theoretical/abstract knowledge; and they c) engage with different spatial and temporal horizons. Building on these reflections we conclude with suggesting that what really is negotiated in the context of the wolves' return is the vision not only of the actual condition of the Swiss Alps, but also that of a contemporary, modern Swiss society as such. The paper is based on ethnographic research with various actors in the field of wolf management in Switzerland.

panel P020
People and wilderness coming back - negotiating mobility and 'immobility': the case of the Alps and other European mountainous regions