Is the increasing interest in landscape at a European level translated to a local level? How is it perceived and mobilized by local actors? Are there lessons to be learned from empirical case studies? To increase our understanding of these issues, an analysis was carried out by using the theoretical framework of the sociology of translation on 8 landscape-based initiatives in an Italian Alpine valley. The initiatives aimed, either explicitly or implicitly, at enhancing the mountainous landscapes in a move toward more sustainable development. The sociology of translation conceives the implementation of an innovation as an attempt to build a working network between human and nonhuman entities such as landscape. Our analysis shows how dynamically different actors can interact with landscape in a rural mountain context. In quite similar places (ie sharing the same problems, rural history, and goals), the same resources were used in different ways by the different initiatives. The outcomes depend on the ability of the promoters of the initiatives to build networks with different actors, in some cases far beyond the valley or province's borders, around new concepts of landscape. Moreover, an adequate organizational framework that fosters bottom-up approaches can support successful implementation of local landscape projects. Active, two-way communication is also crucial to move from a “local” to a “participative” project and thus mobilize allies for sustainable landscape planning and management. Overall, the research provides insights into how such landscape initiatives can be better implemented and effectively contribute toward the European Landscape Convention.
Landscape has progressively become an important issue on the European political agenda. The turning point was the ratification of the European Landscape Convention (Council of Europe 2000) that acknowledges the quality and diversity of European landscapes as a “common resource” and provides a set of guidelines for landscape protection, management, and planning. This can have a positive impact on the development of rural areas, particularly in mountain areas, where the modernization paradigm has chiefly led to obsolescence and loss of significance of the tangible and intangible territorial resources once valuable for primary production (van der Ploeg et al 2000).
These resources can be revived with new functions and new meanings within landscape. With regard to this, Dansereau (1975) once highlighted that “no landscape… can express its full potential until it has been given its myths” (Dansereau 1975: 152). But, as perceptions and attitudes toward landscape vary according to people's functional links with it (Buijs et al 2006; Hunziker et al 2008), “experts” as well as lay people appraise the quality of landscape differently (Rogge et al 2007; Vouligny et al 2009). This poses specific challenges for sustainable landscape management and planning, questioning the effectiveness of the top-down and merely expert-based approach usually adopted across Europe (Pinto-Correia et al 2006).
In line with its definition of landscape as “an area as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors” (Council of Europe 2000: Article 1a), the European Landscape Convention requires the establishment of “procedures for the participation of the general public, local and regional authorities, and other parties with an interest in the definition and implementation of the landscape policies” (Council of Europe 2000: Article 5c). Some key questions, however, arise about how this could become operational. Is interest in the landscape at a European level translated to a local community level? How is it perceived and mobilized by local actors? What lessons can be learned from the analysis of empirical case studies? The present article addresses these questions through an analysis of 8 local initiatives aimed at, either explicitly or implicitly, enhancing mountain landscapes in an Italian alpine valley.
The study focused on the implementation process of the 8 cases under consideration. They were analyzed by means of the so-called sociology of translation (Callon 1986), a theoretical framework initially developed to understand processes of innovation in the field of science and technology, which has proved to be suitable to understanding rural development projects and their outcomes (Fleury et al 2008; Magnani and Struffi 2009). According to this framework, the implementation of an innovation can be considered a process aimed at the building of a working network between human and nonhuman entities such as a landscape and its elements.
Callon (1986) singles out 4 subsequent “moments” or phases:
Problematization: in this phase, an instigating actor identifies a problem to be solved through an initial program of action that defines the participating actors and their role.
Interessement: in this phase, the promoter tries to attract the other elements of the network into the program through the use of various kinds of devices.
Enrollment: this phase occurs when the promoter tries to fix the previously assigned roles. In this phase, the other actors might accept but also reject the superimposed role.
Mobilization: the translation is accomplished with the “mobilization of allies,” that is, “the problematization, which was only a simple conjecture, is transformed into mobilization” (Callon 1986: 216), that is, the network finally operates as a unique entity.
Considering the natural world as an active entity to the same extent as human actors is a particularly useful means of understanding how the natural world favors or hinders the implementation of a project. This is consistent, in our opinion, with the concept of landscape adopted by the European Landscape Convention. In fact, if landscape is an area “as perceived by people,” then the relations between the cultural meanings of landscape and its materiality are crucial. From another point of view, the implementation of a landscape project requires that the different human actors agree on the problem at stake (“problematization”) and that this is coherent with what the natural components of the landscape offer (which corresponds to the landscape's “agreement”).
Another important aspect taken in consideration by the approach of the sociology of translation concerns the relations between those actors concretely involved in the negotiation of the program of action, that is, the “spokespersons,” and the entities (local residents, visitors, landscape, etc) that they represent or assume to represent. If the spokespersons' representativeness is not called into question, then the project can proceed until allies are mobilized. If not, the project has to be adapted or terminated. The initiatives under consideration (Figure 1) were selected after a screening of the Valsugana valley area, which was previously investigated in a research project that explored the role of landscape in governance processes in rural and periurban areas in the Alps (Mazzola and De Ros 2010).
The present analysis is mainly based on information collected in 2010 through semistructured interviews with the main actors involved in each case (elected officials and executives, project managers, members of associations, etc). The questions focused on 3 topics: the project's history and the role played by the interviewee, the role of the local landscape in the initiative, and the relationships between actors and the local context in relation to the initiative. Informants were selected by snowball sampling, that is, on suggestion of another informant, after a first contact person had been identified for each case. Overall, 29 interviews were carried out. Documents such as technical reports, maps, promotional leaflets, web pages, etc, were also analyzed to compare them with the information elicited from the interviews. A first report about each initiative was then discussed with the interviewees.
The Valsugana valley is located in the eastern part of the Autonomous Province of Trento (46°04′00″N; 11°13′00″E). This province, together with that of Bolzano/Bozen, enjoys a special autonomy from the Italian Constitution, with substantial legislative powers, including in the areas of land planning, environment and agriculture, and broad financial autonomy.
The valley covers an area of 973 km2 and has a total of 77,584 inhabitants (2010); it has a route that links the Trentino Alps and the Veneto plain since the times of the Roman Empire. The valley is divided into 2 administrative units, Alta (Upper) Valsugana and Bassa (Lower) Valsugana, with common dynamics both in terms of demographic growth and periurbanization in the valley floor, and depopulation and land abandonment in less accessible areas. Tourism, linked particularly to lakes and spas, is quite important in Alta Valsugana but much less so in Bassa Valsugana, which was marked in the past decades by a now declining industrial development.
The selected case studies (Table 1) are the following:
Arboreto del Tesino (Tesino Arboretum) consists of a meadow area with groups of local, American, and Asiatic tree species, a peat bog, a pond, and a small orchard with old apple varieties. First conceived in 1996 by Tuscia University (central Italy), the above project was realized in 2002 with a view to providing a natural space with publicly accessible walking paths.
Arte Sella (Sella Art) is an initiative of “art-in-nature” conceived by 3 artists as a temporary exhibition in 1986. Today this is a well-known permanent exhibition of artwork made exclusively of natural materials, placed in the woods of the Sella valley, a lateral valley starting at Borgo Valsugana, the main center of Bassa Valsugana.
Biotopo di Fontanazzo (Fontanazzo Biotope) was instituted in 1994 near the village of Selva di Grigno to preserve an alluvial forest, lowland hay meadows, and freshwater habitats. Starting from 2002, the biotope was involved in a European LIFE project, aiming at a wider renaturalization and the creation of a visitors' trail.
Giardino della Torre dei Sicconi (Sicconi Tower Garden) covers the surrounding area of the ruins of a 12th century tower overlooking the village of Caldonazzo. The tower is historically significant and appears on the official municipal coat of arms; the area offers a remarkable view onto the Alta Valsugana. Within a LEADER+ project, the municipality cleared the area of wood and shrubs, promoted archaeological excavations, and eventually created a garden.
Pascolo caprino (The Goat Pasture) is a formerly cultivated forested area on the shore of Lake Serraia near the village of Baselga di Pinè. As of 2004, some local residents succeeded in obtaining permission from a hundred local landowners who provided free use of their small plots of land to a shepherd who, with the help of some villagers, cleared the land for grazing goats.
Percorso Grande Guerra della Val dei Mocheni (The Mocheni Valley 1st World War Trail) runs along the eastern ridge of the Mocheni Valley, on the line of the 1st World War front, where trenches, tracks, and some barracks have been restored. The idea of preserving the fading signs of the conflict was conceived in 1998 by a local branch of the Association of Alpine Troop Veterans.
Sentiero dell'immaginario (The Imaginary Trail) is a path in the woods that surrounds the small village of Luserna, one of the few remaining areas populated by Cimbrian-speaking communities, mainly by using already an existing network of walking trails and paths, and dedicated to local folk tales.
Strada del Castagno (Chestnut Road) is a thematic route dedicated to the chestnut, a cropping resource and cultural symbol. First planned in 2005, the trail now stretches over 13 different walking circuits through a network of preexisting paths and trails in the territory of ten different municipalities in Bassa Valsugana.
Main data for each case study.
Instigating actors and objectives
The promoters, or the “instigating actors,” are those who start the process. For five of the studied projects, this role was played by public institutions: municipalities (Chestnut Road and Sicconi Tower Garden), a consortium of municipalities (The Imaginary Trail), the provincial administration (Fontanazzo Biotope), and a University (Arboretum); in the other 3 cases, the process was initiated by private actors: 3 artists (Arte Sella), a group of citizens who then constituted an “ecological committee” (The Goat Pasture), and a preexisting association (The Mocheni Valley 1st World War Trail).
The interviews showed that the 8 initiatives were commonly presented as actions that succeeded in correcting or anticipating negative trends that affect areas considered valuable from a cultural and/or environmental point of view. These trends included untidy reforestation, excessive artificializing, and, in general, a loss of quality of the area. Therefore, the promoters intended to voice the local residents' desire to preserve their common heritage, their identification with the territory, and, ultimately their quality of life.
Moreover, most initiatives claimed that they included the goal of making places more attractive to tourists and visitors. The interviewees described the goal of attracting the visitors as complementary to that of restoration of the local heritage: bringing back abandoned or deteriorating areas to the attention of local residents would surely give these areas value and meaning for visitors as well. Some initiatives also had didactic aims. This was particularly the case for the Arboretum and the Biotope, at least in the LIFE project: the didactic aim of the former focused on university students mainly coming from the Apennines of Central Italy and of the latter on local primary school pupils. Chestnut Road and the Sicconi Tower Garden also had the aim of marketing local products by providing a kind of shop window for local producers in the first case and fostering the economic sustainability of the project in the second.
Local municipalities were regularly involved in the programs of action. Indeed, they were in the position of granting or denying sorely needed material resources, such as meeting rooms, offices, and so forth. Moreover they were often tacitly considered by the promoters, particularly in the case in which there were other public institutions, as a sort of spokesperson for the local communities. For almost all promoters, an alliance with the Autonomous Province, whose legal authority and/or financial resources gave the power to enable or block the projects, was also unavoidable.
In the past decade, the European Union also played a key role, particularly in the larger projects promoted by public institutions: public promoters acted only within European Union programs (ie LEADER, LIFE, Interreg), except in the case of the Arboretum and the first steps toward the creation of the Biotope. Private actors were often involved as well but not ubiquitously. In the case of The Goat Pasture, the participation of the owners of small plots was indispensable for carrying out the initiative, as well as that of the local shepherd. In the Chestnut Road project, the instigating municipality planned to involve the local chestnut producer's association, in addition to other municipalities. The promoting alpine troop associations of Mocheni Valley 1st World War Trail also sought the involvement of other similar associations in 2 nearby municipalities, and even one in Austria. Similarly, the 3 local artists who initiated Arte Sella sought the alliance of other colleagues from outside the area. Finally, in the LIFE project that concerned Fontanazzo, a local cultural association was also involved in organizing meetings with the local population and later in carrying out didactic activities, although the provincial administration only has the legal obligation to ask the nonbinding opinion of the municipality when they establish or enlarge a biotope.
Outside visitors were also important allies for most of the initiatives. However, the interviews did not record any direct participation by visitors in the phase of problematization; their needs and expectations were simply taken for granted by local actors. Apart from these human and institutional actors, another essential entity that entered into the networks was the landscape itself. The promoters had to define what landscape they wanted to involve, that is, what identity and what properties a specific landscape had.
Most of the initiatives identified a formerly existing landscape by attempting to bring memory and traditions back to life. The Arboretum, The Goat Pasture, and Chestnut Road sought the natural context of the preindustrial landscape, that is, that of traditional extensive agriculture, which in Trentino began to decline in the aftermath of the Second World War. The Sicconi Tower Garden was initially dedicated to the medieval landscape of castles. According to the interviews, the wild and nonanthropogenic landscape of the alluvial forest of Fontanazzo Biotope was first “asked to” counteract the threat of the creation of a sand mine and then, with the LIFE project, to take over the space occupied by intensive maize cultivation. The landscape of the Imaginary Trail boasts natural elements blended with characters that belonged to folk imagery: the folk tales' characters were required to repopulate the local woods in the form of wooden sculptures, thus contributing to the sense of the visitor's wonder at meeting these original mediators (Figure 2). The Mocheni Valley 1st World War Trail initiative also refers to a landscape from long ago, seen only once in history, the warfront landscape, which was asked to compete with the landscape of Alpine pastures. Finally, Arte Sella gave the local landscape the task of changing its traditional role: from being the location of forests and livestock grazing to being the inspiration and natural gallery of works of art.
The promoters tried to appeal to other actors mostly by emphasizing each initiative's importance in enhancing or preserving the area, considered a shared objective. Private actors communicated mainly through face-to face contacts, which, in the case of The Goat Pasture, were fundamental in overcoming the concerns of small landowners about their property rights, because their land was to be put to use by a third party. For involving public actors, more formal channels and media (letters, technical plans, etc) had to be used. In 3 cases, a crucial role was played by a “territorial animator,” that is, an (individual or collective) actor who facilitated other actors' interessement and enrollment, mediating between them. For Chestnut Road and Sicconi Tower Garden this role was played by a professional animator hired by the Local Action Group of the LEADER+ project; in the case of the Biotope, the person in charge of the cultural association overseeing didactic activities also had a role in finding local partners, that is, farmers willing to substitute maize with more extensive hay meadows and ultimately in facilitating the acceptance the project by local residents.
To attract tourists and visitors, some promotional strategies were carried out. All of the initiatives but one are now publicized through road signs and onsite explanatory notice boards. Moreover, promotional material, such as leaflets, brochures, and DVDs, is regularly produced. The only exception is the Goat Pasture: to avoid conflict with the landowners, it has not been promoted at all. The institutional websites of The Valsugana Tourism Office, municipalities, and other public bodies host pages for the different initiatives, but, at the date of the end of the research (the first half of 2011), only Arte Sella and the Sicconi Tower Garden had their own website. In addition, almost all initiatives are still being promoted by specific events, such as guided tours.
The availability of landscape and other nonhuman actors (such as the birds and other animals in the Biotope, folk tale characters along the Imaginary Trail, etc) to adhere to these initiatives was generally not called into question. The interessement devices for their involvement were delegated to various professionals, architects, engineers, foresters, botanists, etc, hired as consultants by the different initiatives. Apart from this, sometimes experts also played a role in instigating initiatives: a professor in Tesino Arboretum, 3 artists in Arte Sella, an anthropologist from the Interreg project's steering committee on the Imaginary Trail.
Although the actors mostly accepted the roles and identity assigned by the promoters, some exceptions arose. In the case of Sicconi Tower, for instance, promoters were repeatedly let down in their attempts to network with other actors, forcing them to change the initial project. At first the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici (Superintendence for Archaelogical Heritage) refused to agree to the reconstruction of the tower initially planned. This led to a reassessment of the project, which focused it on the history of the aristocratic gardens. At this stage, it was the materiality of the landscape that “denied” its integration in the program of action: once cleared of shrubs and wood, the rocky structure and inclination of the ground revealed itself as unsuitable for gardens. The proponents reacted by changing their alliance system once again. A different landscape, that of agriculture, was included in the network, and a different architectural plan, conceiving the garden as a collection of different past and current local agricultural landscapes, was drafted. Finally, the young couple to whom both the upkeep of the garden and the management of a little cafeteria placed at the entrance were eventually entrusted, changed the function of the garden once more by focusing on an organic orchard and herb garden linked to the sale of organic snacks and beverages.
In the case of Tesino Arboretum as well, the first project had to be adapted to win the approval and thus the alliance of an important partner, the provincial administration. First conceived as an Alpine botanical garden for the students of the university, which has an alpine studies center in the area, it was then planned and implemented as a natural space open for everyone (also for students). Arte Sella and the Fontanazzo Biotope initially encountered some difficulties in winning the acceptance of some local residents. In both cases, the controversies concerned the landscape itself, viewed differently by the local residents by comparison with the proponents. In the case of Arte Sella (Figure 3), some villagers disapproved of the fact that the permanent art exhibition would substitute the rural landscape traditionally used for summer grazing of animals. As for Fontanazzo Biotope, some residents close to the proposed biotope collected hundreds of signatures against the landscape being subject to prohibitions and restrictions concerning farming, hunting, and fishing. In the first case, a decisive ally was found outside the area: the progressively growing notoriety and flow of visitors granted the promoters more and increasingly committed local allies. In the second case, together with the intermediary role played by the cultural association, the purchase of some land by the provincial administration and the provisions of agroenvironmental schemes earned the acceptance of most local residents, and some farmers eventually converted their maize crops into extensive meadows.
Finally, the Mocheni Valley 1st World War Track met the opposition of the herds of sheep grazing in the area: according to the interviews, the sheep tended to destroy the dry-stone walls that had been repaired and inclined to enter the barracks left open by tourists, thus turning them into sheep pens. The zeal of the maintenance teams seems sufficient now to cement the alliance.
Mobilization of allies
The networks were then mobilized. However, sometimes further changes in actors' objectives and definitions occurred. Arte Sella, for instance, was initiated as a small private initiative: the first exhibitions were held in the private properties of one of the 3 artists, the Austrian wife of a local resident. Over time, the partially spontaneous mobilization of a growing public and an increased participation of artists encouraged the promoters to gradually transform the sporadic initiative into a permanent art exhibition and to form an association. It later earned the alliance of the Borgo Valsugana municipality, which bought the malga (alpine pasture with stall and shepherd's house) that the artists had meantime rented, and allowed the association to use it free of charge; it also earned the alliance of the provincial administration, setting up a basis for further development.
Even the initiative of the alpine troop veterans initially aimed only at restoring the field chapel to prevent local memory from disappearing. But, after having built a network with other associations and 3 local municipalities, it was easy to involve the provincial administration as well. The approval of a national law on the “protection of historical patrimony of the 1st World War” (Legge 7 marzo 2001, n. 78) was passed not long after, which set the basis for a larger, province-scale, initiative: the “1st World War Project.”
Although the main actors remained unchanged in the Tesino Arboretum project, the municipalities, initially lukewarm, took on a more active role after being asked to contribute financially to the Arboretum's upkeep by working on the objective of preserving local memories and identity. Some years after its establishment, a demonstration roccolo (a complex of beech trees pruned to create a circular gallery traditionally used for chasing birds) was indeed planted inside the Arboretum and then a Garden of Europe was also created in the name of Alcide De Gasperi, one of the fathers of the European Community who was born in Pieve Tesino. On the whole, according to the interviewees, the goal of the landscape quality of abandoned or deteriorating areas was achieved in the totality of the cases. Some interviewees supported this opinion with the comparison of previous and current photos of the restored areas (Figure 4A, B).
Results regarding the mobilization of tourists and visitors, however, are less clear, because only the Arte Sella and Sicconi Tower Garden initiatives monitored the number of visitors. Arte Sella's head count in 2010 declared 70,000 visitors, whereas, according to interviews, the Tower Garden seems to have had a lower number of visitors than foreseen. Even though only Arte Sella seems to be really well known, by the end of the present research project (the first half of 2011), the Sicconi Tower Garden, the Fontanazzo Biotope, Tesino Arboretum and the Imaginary Trail were all highlighted on the Valsugana maps distributed by the tourism office. The other three are not, which signals that they kept a substantially local focus.
Discussion and lessons learned
The theoretical framework of the sociology of translation offered a suitable tool to analyze how the 8 landscape projects were initiated and meaningfully implemented. The findings offer decision-makers and practitioners in the Alps and other mountain areas in Europe some useful lessons learned. First, we notice that the 8 local networks, including landscape as an actor, are found in a relatively limited area, an Alpine valley. Most of them were initiated in the past decade, which suggests a recent trend. This high number of successful initiatives shows that, indeed, landscape can effectively be an “ally” for local initiatives aiming to foster sustainable development in mountain areas.
However, in rural places that share common problems as well as a similar history and similar goals, the same natural resources were used in different ways. Wood, for instance, was crucial for some projects and considered part of the problem in others. The same is true of cultivated or grazed land. A possible explanation could be the different cultural background of the promoters of the initiatives, as, indeed, previous research has indicated that forested landscapes are valued differently by farmers and country dwellers (Rogge et al 2007) or by locals, tourists, and the general public (Hunziker et al 2008). Although our research plan did not investigate the reasons for such outcomes, our findings support the demand for flexible and site-specific approaches to landscape planning (Pinto-Correia et al 2006).
Half of the initiatives were developed within European programs that foster area-based bottom-up approaches, such as LEADER, LIFE, and Interreg. Besides allocating important financial means for projects that need investment and specific expertise, these programs set up a favorable organizational environment for negotiating objectives and activities. We refer particularly to the establishment of multistakeholder action groups entrusted with defining strategies and actions but also to the role of territorial animators in facilitating the interessement and enrollment of actors. As found in other research (Stenseke 2009) such frameworks succeed in engaging local actors in landscape planning and management. Thus, an adequate organizational support can crucially enable local projects, even if other aspects are important as well.
In some cases, the promoters succeeded in mobilizing local people, thanks to an intensive use of face-to-face contacts and despite their concerns and reluctance. Yet, often, the local residents were not actively involved in the networks but merely represented by the municipalities. Succinctly, “local” does not always mean “participative.” The understanding that landscape is mainly a subject for the public administration's action seems to be a constant in the area (Mazzola and De Ros 2010). Yet, as highlighted also by other research (Volker 1997; Luz 2000; Stenseke 2009), it is crucial to engage in an active, two-way form of communication to move from a “local” project to a project that really mobilizes and involves allies and thus brings the networks between people and the landscape alive.
Various research projects have shown that an action program proposed by a promoter can effectively build innovative alliances among diverse actors who were not or were only weakly linked before (Magnani and Struffi 2009). From this point of view, most of the investigated initiatives were successful and able to link different actors (Table 2), in some cases, far beyond the valley or province's borders, around concepts of landscape. Nonetheless, a kind of self-centeredness characterized some initiatives that planned to have visitors and tourists as possible allies, with the consequence that visitor numbers remained low. Moreover, the potential of establishing contacts between the different initiatives at the valley-scale was neglected. Therefore, a more deliberate involvement of representative spokespersons of potential allies such as tourists seems to be crucial, as well as a willingness to exchange among initiatives.
Type of actors and their involvement in the different “translation” phases of building a network between people and landscape.
Last but not least, we have shown how landscape dynamically interacts with the other actors. Representations of landscape can thus federate alliances as well as become the object of controversies; elements of such representations can either be integrated into a project or threaten its outcome. For this reason as well, it is important to raise awareness and knowledge of the potential of landscape as an actor.
The authors thank the editorial team and 2 anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments that improved this article. The authors are also grateful to Emanuela Renzetti for her suggestions in the early phase of the study, and Natalia Magnani for her comments on an earlier version of the article.