Social Ecology

Volume 5 of the series Human-Environment Interactions pp 459-474


How Tourism Transformed an Alpine Valley

  • Robert GroßAffiliated withInstitute of Social Ecology (SEC), Alpen-Adria University Email author 

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Tourism moves global flows of capital, people and knowledge and thereby fundamentally transforms materiality, social relations, communities and life-worlds. This paper examines the environmental history of an alpine community (Damüls/Austria) under the influence of tourism in the 20th century. Environ-mental History seeks to understand historical society-nature relations and people’s perceptions of nature in the past. Such an endeavor poses a twofold challenge to environmental historians, who conceptualize ‘nature’ as an independent parameter of history without reducing it to a social construct but at the same time address the social construction of ‘beautiful landscapes’ as an integral part of the tourism industry. These two viewpoints can only be bridged dialectically. In this article, the concept of socio-natural sites (SNSs) is used to bridge that gap and to analyze the long-term impact of ski lifts on materiality and the cultural representation of winter sport landscapes. SNSs are constituted by the nexus of social practices and material arrangements. Damüls is a telling example of the restless transformation of an Alpine sport arena built for skiers.


Environmental history Regional history Long-term socioecological research (LTSER) Socio-natural sites (SNSs) Spiral of risk