Dissertation
Irrigation Systems of Canton Valais: Transformations in Material Culture and the Resilience of Landscape Commons

Dissertation
Nicole de Lalouvière
 


Gorperi Suon, Baltschiedertal

The irrigation network of Canton Valais (Switzerland)—also called ‘bisses’, ’Suonen’, or ‘Wasserleitungen’—constitutes a multi-secular cultural landscape. Current challenges related to a diversified economy, increasing water demands, and climate change risk disrupting the bisses as a long-standing commons. The research project aims to understand the relation between the resilience of the bisses as enduring landscape commons and the adaptive capacity of their material culture. Does material culture in its ‘traditional’ communal form promote the adaptive capacity of the bisses? Do changes to this communal model—particularly in terms of construction techniques, building materials, and related use practices—threaten the resilience of the bisses? This research tracks changes in construction techniques, materials, and practices against transformations in the communal governance model. The life histories of irrigation artefacts are described and analysed through the phases of procurement, manufacture, use, maintenance, and discard. The broader ambition of this research is to contribute insights from the case study of the bisses to sustain and construct resilient landscape commons today.