AND THE FARMER BECAME A GARDENER METHODOLOGICAL CHALLENGES OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL RESEARCH IN THE SWISS ALPS
This paper will discuss the rural and touristic context in which current changes and tensions pose methodological challenges to anthropological research. The canton of Valais, in Switzerland, is a rural mountain region that has undergone deep transformations, particularly during the second half of the 20th century. The Alpine valleys have seen intense construction activity: traditional farming systems have decreased drastically whereas tourist facilities have significantly increased in number. The recent changes in agricultural policies have amplified farmers’ discontent and a new law on construction restrictions in mountain settings has brought to light a marked cleavage between the inhabitants of the Swiss Plateau and mountain dwellers. Economic and environmental interests create substantial tensions. Given these tensions, carrying out research in this setting became quite sensitive and politicised. I will present some results of exploratory research conducted in Valais in September 2012, as well as the challenges that have to be taken into account when organising long-term ethnographic research. It is proposed that one way to overcome personal and discipline-related obstacles is to carry out multidisciplinary research with social geographers, specialists of environmental sciences, agronomists and experts in regional planning and land use. Accordingly, interdisciplinarity and the comparison of various rural contexts are crucial in order to achieve relevant results.