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Istituto per i Beni Culturali Emilia-Romagna

Memoria e Ricerca

A cultural history of European Alpine Clubs

di Olivier Hoibian
in Memoria e Ricerca n.s. 19 (2005), p. 71

Having neither rules nor referees, based on unwritten ethical rules, alpinism lends itself to diverse appropriations. Indeed, the ways to envisage climbing have never stopped evolving and reasons initially given to justify going mountain climbing have changed in the course of time. In order to overcome the hurdles linked to the transformations of this ambivalent discipline, cultural history leaning on contributions from social sciences seeks to better distinguish between those traditions – either aristocratic or middle-class – which are the source of the founding of the first European Alpine Clubs. It attempts to follow the internal dynamics of each club in order to identify the process by which the rightful definition of the practice becomes the stake of debates and conflicts between diverging positions thus characterising the structuring of such a realm as a social area in its own right. It also has to take into account the impact of external factors such as specific socio-political contexts (construction of national cohesion, nature of political systems, border problems, etc.), or diverging life styles (importance of a classical education, of physical activities in leisure and in training the elites). The diverse opinions can be detected in distinct strategies aimed mainly at imposing a behaviour mountaineering mode compatible with ethical and aesthetic dispositions of the different groups competing to overtake the cultural realm of Alpine climbing.