Innovation and Mountain Territories : presentation

LabEx ITEM – INNOVATION ET TERRITOIRE DE MONTAGNE (Innovation and Mountain Territories) – is a research laboratory financed as part of the 2011-2019 "Laboratory of Excellence" call for projects within the "Future Investments" programme.

Representing the only humanities and social sciences laboratory overseen by the Grenoble-Alpes University, LabEx brings together over a hundred researchers from seven different laboratories, and covers an extensive palette of disciplines. A presentation of LabEx's governance can be found on the project note.

By mobilising the many fields inherent in Humanities and Social Sciences, LabEx ITEM sets out to create a hub of research references on mountainous regions, and seeks to provide these regions with the requisite analytical capacity and expertise called for by the various forms of change they face, whether it be in terms of the climate, the economy, demographics, mobility, culture, and so on.

While these upheavals and the resulting uncertainties represent a real challenge, mountain regions are not powerless for all that. In fact, they have always proven their innovative ability by implementing adaptation processes in economic, environmental, cultural and social areas. Understanding of these mechanisms is key to deciphering the effects of contemporary transformations.

This LabEx approach is based on a close partnership between researchers and political/socio-economic stakeholders. Labex ITEM seeks to provide decision-makers with concrete responses: identifying possible levers of action, which resources to mobilise, or the scale of the corresponding intervention. By co-constructing the projects and investigation methods with these stakeholders, Labex ITEM effectively provides scientific research for the benefit of mountain regions to help them devise their development strategy.

The scientific project

The mountain foreshadows the establishment of a society based on sustainability. Mountain regions have long been a territory in crisis, far removed from centres of development, and thus requiring compensatory policies. These regions are presently in the throes of a twofold development, with certain areas whose high level of attractiveness must be controlled, and others that are socially vulnerable. These regions lend themselves to an investigation into the abilities to recover from a crisis, new resources in today's post-industrial environment, and the organisation of services when distributive policies are no longer possible. In addition, the mountain region's attractiveness hinges on its facilities and environmental specificities, which make it a space at the intersection of new tourist-related, residential and ecological demands. While environmental quality appears to represent an actual resource, it requires the introduction of specific forms of regulation and governance when linked to a fragile environment.

From an environmental perspective, the mountain is particularly exposed to the effects of climate change. An economy based on tourism makes mountain regions acutely vulnerable. The specificities of the natural environment lead to increased risks from global warming or climate change - flooding, landslides, glacial melting - not only for the inhabitants, but also for the surrounding regions. As such, the mountain represents both an observatory for global change, and a possible demonstrator of preventive, protective or corrective measures.

In terms of international stakes, the mountain constitutes an "object" recognised by political communities and scientific bodies. We may recall the International Year of Mountains in 2002, instituted by the UN, dedicated scientific journals (-), the Alpine Convention in Europe, which forms the backbone for research and management networks, as well as civic networks and development programmes. This political construction of the mountain now benefits from fresh impetus via the project for establishing a European macro-region. This project will establish an original form of governance over a region that shares mutual sustainability concerns. The macro-regional strategy (EU Strategy for the Alpine Region) thus places the mountain firmly at the centre of political and territorial issues that are of major importance for the future of Europe: regional restructuring in the context of sustainability, governance of intermediate networks, linkage between urban hubs/natural spaces, north-south routes, definition of joint assets, construction of transnational territorial identities, etc.

This diversity and breadth of scientific, environmental, political, social and economic issues has led LabEx to approach the mountain as a laboratory area in which societal problems with a global dimension are particularly acute. The matter of innovation in its territorial dimension is broached in order to grasp the processes of change and adjustment by crossing the long and short term in a multi-level approach in which the prevailing ecological, economic and social systems are considered interdependently.