Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

Anthropological perspectives on the Alpine region - Local interpretations of current climate issues and the relationship between land, people and water
Location Senate House - Holden Room
Date and Start Time 28 May, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 1


  • Almut Schneider (Goethe University, Frankfurt) email
  • Elisabeth Tauber (Free University Bolzano) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Elisabeth Tauber
Discussant Almut Schneider

Short Abstract

In this panel we want to gather current anthropological expertise on the Alps. In particular on local concepts and interpretations of climate change and of ethnographic understanding of current relationships between land, people and water.

Long Abstract

In the last decades, anthropological work in the Alpine region has been surprisingly scarce compared to the 1960s and 1970s when several ethnographers worked in this area (for example Honigman 1972, Friedl 1974, Cole and Wolf 1974 or Netting 1981). In this panel, we would like to gather current anthropological expertise on the Alps and in particular on local concepts and interpretations of recent weather conditions and climate change. How does this change impact on the landscape and on the way people live in this landscape? What about the relationship between people and land; be they farmers or people that work with or care for land in other contexts. How do inhabitants of this mountainous region manage water and how do they assess the phenomenon of receding glaciers (Strauss 2009)?

We think that the anthropological and ethnographic perspectives on these issues need not only more visibility but should also make stronger contributions to the interdisciplinary discourses of researchers and policy makers on this topic. In this panel we thus also hope to clarify the contributions anthropological and ethnographic research methods can make to the understanding of climate change in the Alps and to communicating this knowledge to local and international institutions and political bodies.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Troubling weather, snow management and work ethics in a glacier ski resort in the Austrian Alps.

Author: Herta Nöbauer (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the relation between retreating glaciers, snow cover and skilled labour in a glacier ski resort in the Austrian Alps. It discusses the effects of climate change on both, the snow- and icescapes and the skilled workers as well as the coping strategies being deployed.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the relation between retreating glaciers, snow cover and skilled labour in a glacier ski resort in the Austrian Alps. Ski resorts are contributing in a substantial way to the tourist economy in Austria. Moreover, the Alpine landscape with its white peaks along with skiing as a popular sport have become essential signifiers of national identity after the end of World War II. However, both snow tourism and identity are facing challenges today because dramatic and rapid changes in snow and ice are occurring due to the effects of global climate change, among others. Although glacier ski resorts in Austria have been affected by retreating glaciers since the 1990s, they are considered as the sole remaining "future snow reservations" by scientists and tourist managers. However, I will argue that such future models do hardly correspond to the experiences of skilled workers in Austria's highest glacier ski resort rising to elevations of more than 3.400 metres. Based on my anthropological fieldwork on this glacier ski resort, I will illustrate how retreating glaciers and melting permafrost are affecting the landscape and the workers of the glacier ski resort. These profound changes of snow- and icescapes are countered by a contested snow and ice management which involves the intensive deployment of technology, geo-textiles, costs and labour as well as the extensive use of water and energy. Finally, I will point out how these experiences of troubling weather are also generating specific work ethics and subjectivities.

Alp-farm workers' perception of the weather Seasonal mountain-grazing and extreme weather situations in Switzerland

Author: Marlies Möderndorfer (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

Extreme weather situations create severe issues for Alp economy in Switzerland. Alp-farm workers´ perception of the weather and their ways to cope with the challenges enable to understand the pragmatic perspective and reveal insights into the seasonal farm life of workers.

Long Abstract

Marlies, 64 year old cheesemaker from Wallis explains: "Breaking off stones increased in the last years. Bolders cover the upper parts of the pastures. The appearance of the pastures changed in all periods but recently pasture space increased" (7.8.2013).

In 2013 summer-grazing in south-western Switzerland started tree weeks later than usual since the snow melted later. Additionally ongoing rain in June/July delayed plant growing and the pastures remained muddy. Cosequently the animals suffered from different hoofdiseases.

In the previous season 2012, the workers on Varneralpe faced 20 cm of snow falling at 9/19. For 3 days it was impossible to look after the livestock spreat on 120 ha at 2300 m sealevel. The snow followed an extreme hot and dry summer. Absence of rain caused troubles in watersupply for the suckler cows and calves. Repeatingly the watercanal providing the wells was not fet with water.

These extreme weather situations in the Alps create serious challenges, in an environment, in which human and animals strongly depend on the weather. While in some places melting permafrost grounds flood streams and pastures during the summer. And breaking down rocks destroy hiking routes and involve a risk for tourists, animals and herds(wo)men. Other Alpfarms lack water. Additionally the visual appearance of the mountainous landscape changes.

My presentation will highlight the view of seasonal workers on Alpfarms and their everyday situation in the mountains. Further I will provide examples of extreme weather situations and possible cosequences for summer-grazing.

It seemed like velvet: Cultural Nature in the Veneto Dolomites

Author: Anna Paini (Università di Verona)  email

Short Abstract

I report on the results of a research conducted in a village in the Veneto Dolomites as part of a larger NSF project (coordinated by G. Bennardo) on the relationship between local knowledge and climate change. Local perception of climate/environmental changes and their interpretations are discussed.

Long Abstract

As part of an international NSF sponsored research project on the relationship between local knowledge and climate change under the coordination of Giovanni Bennardo, I conducted fieldwork in an old settlement of the Ladin area in the Veneto Dolomites between 2013 and 2015. This village has been affected in the last century by a depopulation trend that has reduced the inhabitants by two thirds. Nowadays, no local family raises animals as it was the case in the past when "stable and woods" were the two main sources for people survival and the village was entirely surrounded by cultivated fields. As the bosco "woodland" is no longer maintained and used for woodcutting, it is expanding and encroaching the village while at the same time becoming denser. This emerges as a main concern for villagers. Retreating glaciers are also participating in creating an unfamiliar landscape in the area. Nevertheless, the central area of the village, which comprises allotments dedicated to the cultivation of cabbage, has remained unchanged for generations and no development project has been allowed. In more recent time, due to different climatic conditions, new cultivations (definitely not alpine) have been introduced in these allotments. In the presentation, based on the results of the analyses of the interviews carried out during fieldwork, I discuss the local perception of climate change and provide indications on how villagers interpret the effects of this change.


Author: Almut Schneider (Goethe University, Frankfurt)  email

Short Abstract

Climate change in the Alps.

Long Abstract

Anthropological perspectives

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.