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Mountain fallow lands: a little-studied topic

Call for papers. Deadlines: 15 December 2017 (abstract) and April 2017 (articles). Guest editors : Gian Paolo Torricelli (prof. dr. Osservatorio dello sviluppo territoriale/ Accademia di Architettura/Università della Svizzera italiana, Largo Bernasconi 2, CH-6850 Mendrisio) And Sylvie Duvillard (Enseignant-chercheur, Université Grenoble Alpes, PACTE, 38000 Grenoble)


  • 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 n (...)

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 Alps1 in particular – change that appears to doom skiing and snow sports in mid-mountain resorts, on which the press has reported2. 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.

  • 3 Call for articles, published in May 2017, entitled “Mountain areas’ trajectories of vulnerability a (...)

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 history3 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 ( and Gian Paolo Torricelli ( as well as the editorial team: Olivier Vallade,
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 :

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. (

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

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).

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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”.

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