HomeMountain fallow lands: a little-studied topic

HomeMountain fallow lands: a little-studied topic

Mountain fallow lands: a little-studied topic

Les friches en montagne : un sujet peu étudié

Journal of Alpine Research

Revue de géographie alpine

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Published on Wednesday, September 13, 2017


L’idée d’un numéro sur les « friches en montagne » est venue en discutant les effets du changement climatique dans les Alpes, particulièrement dans les stations de moyenne montagne. Une friche, un terrain en friche (fallow land ou wasteland) ou zone en friche (brownfield), est généralement un objet laissé à l’abandon, sans entretien et sans une fonction précise : elle signale un changement, économique, politique ou culturel, tels les sanatoriums de la fin du XIXe siècle. On peut donc observer des friches comme les vestiges d’une vague d’urbanisation de la montagne (l’abandon des villages au profit de la ville de fond de vallée) ou alors comme témoignage d’une époque industrielle (par exemple les villages fantômes des Andes Chiliennes, suite à l’abandon de l’extraction du salpêtre ou les usines sidérurgiques abandonnées dans l’arc alpin) ou encore comme signal d’une situation politique révolue (par exemple casernes et forts abandonnés sur les frontières des Alpes italiennes). 



Having an issue of the RGA focused on “mountain fallow lands” is a continuation of the concerns raised in the issue regarding the effects of climate change in the Alps[1] in particular – change that appears to doom skiing and snow sports in mid-mountain resorts, on which the press has reported[2]. A fallow land, a wasteland or a brownfield is generally left derelict, not maintained and does not have a specific function. However, from an epistemological point of view, the expression “mountain fallow land” has not been properly defined. Not only is there no real reference literature, but there is no agreement on what “fallow land” even means. About 12 years ago, a group of architects from Basel’s ETHZ (Studio Basel) produced “an urban portrait” of Switzerland in which they used the expression “Alpine fallow lands” (Alpine Brachen in German, or friches alpines in French) to refer to zones “of decline and gradual recession. Their common feature is steady emigration. Alpine fallow lands comprise those areas of the Alps that have no urban networks and cannot establish a significant tourist industry of their own. The vortex effect of the urban networks has produced negative dynamic in these regions and is increasingly sapping their energy” (Diener, Herzog, Mieli, de Mauron, Schmid, 2006, p. 930).

In Switzerland, this concept of fallow land was immediately criticised, among others by the ‘National Research Programme (PNR) 48: Landscapes and habitats of the Alpine arc’: “Calling a particular space ‘fallow land’ means that, in the eyes of urban society, it cannot be used as an economic resource. (…) In its agronomic etymology, the notion of fallow land also means the repose and renewal of resources. In this sense, the Alpine fallow land can be considered a clearing space for urban spaces because urban dwellers seek out natural spaces where they can unwind. Along with its direct usage, which comprises an immediate and individual plus-value – as is the case with skiing, for example – the spaces also offer existence values. These values are apparent in the desire to keep, where possible, ecosystems intact and to preserve nature for future generations” (Lehmann, Steiger, Weber 2007, pp. 42–43). The report concludes as follows: “There is no Alpine fallow lands. Alpine space is very heterogeneous in nature, and thus, one simply cannot treat all the peripheral regions of the Alps in the same way” (ibid., p. 76).

It is clear that the term can be problematic, and we invite researchers to question it, including from a theoretical perspective. In our view, the category of fallow land does not appear to refer to peripheral spaces, however marginal they may be, but rather to obsolete spaces that do not or no longer have a function in a mountain community’s (town, valley, region, etc.) social and economic life. Fallow land marks a change – “fallow land is the temporary status of a space” (Lévy & Lussault, 2003) – that is economic, political or cultural, like sanatoriums at the end of the 19th century, or today as climate change hastens the end of ski lift operations for winter sports at mid-mountain resorts. Fallow land is therefore rather linked to economic potential at the local or regional level: In the Alps, and more specifically in France, there have been concerns over an economic model dependent in part on the economic benefits reaped by winter sports (Gauchon, 1997; Vlès, 2014). As expected, Alpine fallow land is frequently a kind of tourism-oriented fallow land. In several regions of the Alps, between abandoned installations, especially in mid-mountain resorts (Bachimon et al. 2014), and the disrepair of leisure accommodation in big resorts, obsolescence is threatening the local economic vitality that often has only one function and has been weakened by climate change and the development of the consumption pattern of the tourism product.

One can see fallow lands as remnants of a wave of mountain urbanisation (withdrawing from smaller villages in order to move to the town at the bottom of the valley), or as testimony to an industrial era (for example, the ghost towns of the Chilean Andes, the result of halted saltpetre extraction, or the abandoned steel factories in the Alpine arc), or as an indication of a former political situation (for example, the abandoned barracks and forts on the borders of the Italian Alps). These few examples already show that the topic of “mountain fallow lands” is very promising – not only because there is no typology and it might have to be invented but also because it connects to an issue that until now has been mostly urban in nature (Clément, 1994), namely the valorisation of “common goods”, whether they relate to heritage, architecture, history or culture (immaterial). Fallow land inscribes the mountain territories in the long term by covering both their history[3] and the way in which they are governed, which also determines their becoming.

Potential topics for papers

While the issue of mountain fallow lands remains an open one, here are a few questions, absolutely non-exhaustive, that could inform the contents of the journal’s next issue:

  • Fallow land as a sign of the mountain space’s obsolescence. In other words, are fallow lands nothing but indications of historical operating models in the mountains and, in the case of industrialisation and the rise in tourism, of the city/mountain domination?
  • An ongoing and cyclical phenomenon? Are there regional differences in the way that people left behind their way of living or their activities in the mountain in the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st?
  • The notion of a climatic wasteland: Is there a new type of fallow land peculiar to mountain spaces, and if so, what are its intra-mountain characteristics? Examples and case studies. Comparative studies are welcome!
  • Finally, fallow land as an opportunity: How are fallow land spaces reused? What has changed about the way they are used recently? Are they connected to – or form part of proposals for – the valorisation of culture and heritage in the mountain as well? Is the valorisation of Alpine fallow lands a sign of the transition from “communal” to “common goods”? Comparative studies are welcome!


Article proposals, around 1,000 words in length, should be sent in English by 15 December 2017 to Sylvie Duvillard (sylvie.duvillard@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr) and Gian Paolo Torricelli (gianpaolo.torricelli@usi.ch) as well as the editorial team: Olivier Vallade, olivier.vallade@msh-alpes.fr.
Final articles are expected by April 2018.
The article must be submitted in one of the languages of the journal: Alpine languages (French, Italian, German), Spanish or English.
The author must commit to ensuring a translation of the article into a second language after review.
One of the two versions must be in English. If the article is submitted by a native English speaker, the second version must be in French.
Publication is scheduled for March 2019.

Some references

  • Bachimon P., Bourdeau P., Corneloup J., et Bessy O. (2014).– « Du tourisme à l'après-tourisme, le tournant d'une station de moyenne montagne : St-Nizier-du-Moucherotte (Isère) », Géoconfluences, mis en ligne le 15 avril 2014 ; URL : http://geoconfluences.ens-lyon.fr/informations-scientifiques/dossiers-thematiques/les-nouvelles-dynamiques-du-tourisme-dans-le-monde/articles-scientifiques/du-tourisme-a-l-apres-tourism
  • Bealu F., Clément G., (1994). – Éloge de la friche, Hors collection, 38 p.
  • Clément G., (1997).– « Jardins en mouvement, friches urbaines et mécanismes de la vie », Journal d'agriculture traditionnelle et de botanique appliquée, 1997, Vol. 39, n°2 pp. 157-175,  numéro thématique : « Sauvages dans la ville. De l'inventaire naturaliste à l'écologie urbaine ».
  • Coriat B. (2013).– Le retour des communs. Sources et origines d’un programme de recherche, Revue de la régulation. Capitalisme, institutions, pouvoirs, ‎ 12 décembre 2013. (http://regulation.revues.org/10463)
  • Diener R., Herzog J., Meili M., de Meuron P., Schmid C. (2006).– Switzerland, An Urban Portrait, 3 vol., Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel.
  • Gauchon C. (1997).– « Anciennes remontées mécaniques dans les montagnes françaises : pour une géographie des friches touristiques/Old ski lifts and telphers in French mountains : for a geography of touristic waste lands. » In : Bulletin de l'Association de géographes français, 74e année, 1997-3 ( septembre). « Didactique de la géographie. Aménagement et moyennes montagnes. » pp. 296-310; doi : 10.3406/bagf.1997.1986
  • http://www.persee.fr/doc/bagf_0004-5322_1997_num_74_3_1986
  • Lehmann B., Steiger U., Weber M. (2007).– Paysages et habitats de l’arc alpin. Entre valeur ajoutée et valeur appréciée, FNRS / Rapport final du PNR 48, vdf Hochschulverlag AG, Ecole polytechnique fédérale, Zurich.
  • Moret, J.-P. (2013).– « Revitalisation d'un village alpin en friche, le cas de Mase, Val d'Hérens » (VS), Travail de Master, EPFL, Lausanne.
  • Vlès V., (2014).– « Mutations urbaines des stations de montagne, Pessac ». Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, 171 p. (mai 2014).

[1] Issue 103-2 | 2015: Impact of climate change on mountain environment dynamics

[2] Articles appeared first in the daily Le Monde on 7 January 2017 (“A Borée (Ardèche) on pleure les neiges d’antan”) and then in M Le magazine du Monde on 11 March 2017 (“Fausses pistes”).

[3] Call for articles, published in May 2017, entitled “Mountain areas’ trajectories of vulnerability amidst global change”.

Editorial commitee

The Editorial Committee (co-directors, members and secretariat) meet about 6 times a year (on average) at the Institut de Géographie alpine, Grenoble. H

Co-directors of publications

  • Dominique Baud, Senior Lecturer in geography and geomatics, Laboratoire PACTE, UMR 5194 CNRS / Institut de Géographie Alpine / Université Grenoble Alpes, Grenoble, France

  • Sylvie Duvillard, Senior Lecturer, Université Pierre Mendès-France, Grenoble II et chercheuse au laboratoire pacte, Université Grenoble Alpes, France

  • Coralie Mounett, CNRS, Laboratoire Pacte UMR 5194, Grenoble


  • Anne-Laure Amilhat Szary, Full Professor at Grenoble-Alpes University / Head of PACTE research center / Member of the "Institut universitaire de France"

  • Anouk Bonnemains, docteur en géographie, chercheur associé au Laboratoire EDYTEM

  • Jörg Balsiger, Swiss National Science Foundation Professor, Department of Geography and Environment and Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland

  • Jean-Baptiste Bing, Université de Genève, département de géographie et environnement

  • Winfried E. H. Blum, Professor Emeritus, Institute of Soil Research, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU),Vienne, Autriche

  • Sophie Bonin, Maître de conférences, École Nationale Supérieure de Paysage de Versailles, France

  • Axel Borsdorf, Professeur à l’Université d’Innsbrück, Autriche

  • Philippe Bourdeau, Professeur à l’Université Grenoble Alpes / Institut de Géographie Alpine / UMR PACTE, à Grenoble, France

  • Federica Corrado, Politecnico di Torino, Italie

  • Anne Dalmasso, Professeure d'histoire contemporaine, Université Grenoble Alpes
    Responsable de l'axe Territoires, économie, enjeux sociétaux
    Axe(s) / transversalité(s) : Territoires, économie, enjeux sociétaux

  • Bernard Debarbieux, full professor in geography and regional and urban planning, Geneva School of Social Sciences, University of Geneva

  • Cristina Del Biaggio, chercheuse invitée (post-doc) à l’Instituts of European Studies de l’Université d’Amsterdam, Pays-Bas

  • Pierre Derioz, Maître de Conférences HDR en Géographie, Université d’Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse, UMR Espace-Dev 228 IRD (Maison de le télédétection), Montpellier, France

  • Marie Forget, Maître de Conférences en Géographie, Université Savoie Mont Blanc, laboratoire EDYTEM, France

  • Monique Fort, Professeure Émérite (Géographie, Géomorphologie), UFR de Géographie, Histoire, Économie et Sociétés, UMR 8586 PRODIG, Université Paris Diderot, France

  • Marie-Christine Fourny, Professeure à l’Université Grenoble Alpes, France

  • JC Gaillard, PhD, Associate Professor & Associate Dean (Postgraduate Taught and Masters), Faculty of Science, The University of Auckland / Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau, New Zealand/Aotearoa

  • Stéphane Gal, Maître de conférences en histoire moderne, Laboratoire de recherche historique Rhône-Alpes (LARHRA), Université Lumière Lyon 2

  • Franck Giazzi, enseignant-chercheur au laboratoire PACTE territoires (UJF/CNRS) et à l’Institut de Géographie alpine, Grenoble, France

  • Emmanuelle George-Marcelpoil, Directrice de l’unité de recherche Développement des territoires Montagnards, Irstea Grenoble, Saint Martin d’Hères

  • Luc Gwiazdzinski, Université Grenoble Alpes / Institut de Géographie Alpine / UMR PACTE, Grenoble (France)

  • Stéphane Héritier, Maître de Conférences, Université Jean Monnet (Saint-Etienne) COMUE de Lyon / UMR Environnement, Ville, Société (5600), équipe ISTHME, France

  • Lauranne Jacob, Labex ITEM, PACTE, University of Grenoble-Alps, Department of Geography and environment, IGEDT, University of Geneva

  • Mari Oiry-Varacca, Maîtresse de conférence en géographie, Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée. Laboratoire Analyse Comparée des Pouvoirs

  • Martin Price, Professor of Mountain Studies, Director of the Centre for Mountain Studies, Chairholder, UNESCO Chair in Sustainable Mountain Development, Perth College, University of the Highlands and Islands, Royaume-Uni

  • Manfred Perlik, Associated professor, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern (Switzerland) ; associated at Laboratoire PACTE, UMR 5194 CNRS, Grenoble (France)

  • Léa Sallenave, Doctorante-Assistante, Université de Genève, Département Géographie et Environnement et IUFE (Institut universitaire de formation des enseignants)

  • Thomas Scheurer, Directeur de l’ISCAR (International Scientific Committee on Alpine Research) et de l’ICAS (Commission interacadémique recherche alpine des Académies Suisses des Sciences), Suisse

  • Anne Sgard, professeure à l’Université de Genève, Suisse 

  • Gian Paolo Torricelli, Professeur (Géographie urbaine et  Développement territorial), Responsable de l’Observatoire du développement territorial du Canton du Tessin, Accademia di Architettura, Università della Svizzera italiana, Mendrisio, Suisse



The editorial committee receives all articles, calls for articles, and detailed reports of meetings.

Committee members are proposed by the bureau of the editorial committee, then confirmed by the Board of Directors.

Members of the editorial committee attend meetings or participate by mail after reception of the agenda or when their expertise is sought concerning an article or project.

They act as representatives for the journal with regard to their institution, network, region or country: publicising the journal, putting the editorial office in contact with possible partners, seeking authors for articles, seeking expertise or teams for special issues on specific themes.

They provide the journal with information suitable for inclusion in the different columns: reviews, information on research, ongoing programmes, news, interesting events, publications.


  • Friday, December 15, 2017


  • montagne, friche, changement climatique, bien commun, patrimoine


  • Sylvie Duvillard
    courriel : sylvie [dot] duvillard [at] univ-grenoble-alpes [dot] fr
  • Olivier Vallade
    courriel : olivier [dot] vallade [at] msh-alpes [dot] fr
  • Gian Paolo Torricelli
    courriel : gianpaolo [dot] torricelli [at] usi [dot] ch

Information source

  • Christine Hoyon
    courriel : christine [dot] hoyon [at] orange [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Mountain fallow lands: a little-studied topic », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, September 13, 2017, https://calenda.org/416019

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