What does the future hold for mountain regions, bearing in mind that they are first in line faced with changes in climate and in the relationships between societies and nature? New opportunities are opening up in the midst of today's diversity of aspirations and the resource crisis. Transitions, alternatives, reproduction, normalisation, marginalisation: these multiple paths cannot merely be reduced to crisis philosophies or trivialisation. Rather, they prompt us to observe how the endogenous and exogenous processes of change and adaptation are transforming mountain regions, from the perspective of both the environment and that of organisations, or in terms of meanings and symbolic values: what role in innovation at the local and regional levels (and their links)? Which meanings and visions of the mountain are at issue in the light of change? And what kind of territories emerge from these transitions?
The question of mountain specificity looms in the background behind these different points. Is this relationship with the environment special in terms of constraints, vulnerabilities or resources? The diverse possible responses involve the status of mountain regions in this changing society: can this former peripheral area become an area of alternative development? This position engages the territoriality of individuals and societies, real or imagined, ideological or emotional. Mountain specificity also harks back to the natural environment: does climate change take on a particular form in this context? Does it have a greater impact on peripheral areas given the phenomena associated with slopes, gravity or water movement? Could the public interest which the mountain represents in this instance turn into a global threat for downstream regions?
Mid-way through an extensive multidisciplinary research programme, LabEx Innovation and Mountain Territories seeks to explore and debate these questionings, and to open its fields of study and its topics to a theoretical and empirical confrontation. Indeed, beyond merely having knowledge about the dynamics of these unique sites, at issue is understanding what they tell us about the spatial aspect of change processes.
Marie-Christine Fourny, LabEx ITEM lead scientist.