I Disciplinary approaches and theoretical reflections

Transformations of common pastures and woodlands in Switzerland: A historical perspective

Martin Stuber and Rahel Wunderli

The diversity of the Swiss commons landscape and the current importance of collectively regulated Alpine pastures and forests in Switzerland can only be understood historically. In this chapter we look for historiographical points of departure and propose a two-dimensional temporal structure from a longterm perspective, which we carry out using the general Swiss development (Sections 2.2 and 2.3) and which will then be refined in the regional case studies (Chapters 5 to 9).

Historiographical starting points

Municipal dualism is one of the essential particularities of Switzerland. In many places there is not only a Politische Gemeinde (municipality of residents), but also a Corporation of Citizens. There are different names for the latter, in different cantons, such as Biitgergemeinde in the Cantons of Basel, Grisons, Solothurn and Zug; Biirgergemeinde in Obervvallis and Bern; Orts(biirger)gemeindc in Aargau, St. Gallen, Thurgau and Uri; bourgeoisie or commune bourgeoise in Freiburg and Unterwallis; as well as patriziato in Ticino. There are no Corporations of Citizens in Geneva, Neuenburg, Waadt, Zurich, Nidwalden or Schwyz, although in the latter two cantons there are Korporationsgemeinden (corporation municipalities). Other examples of cantons which still have corporations under public law are Appenzell, Glarus, Obwalden, Uri and Zug.

These Corporations of Citizens and other corporations under public law as Genossame, Teilsame, or consortage, being successors to the former commons, own local lands, woodland and real estate. Their sociological core elements are the ancient families who were already politically and economically privileged during the ancien regime. Their maintenance and renewal is based on inheritance and marriage, and on applying for and purchasing the status. Although the number of new members through birth and marriage cannot be affected, the Corporations of Citizens and other corporations under public law are provided with a means of control through the right to grant (corporation) citizenship (i.e. membership) (Head-Konig 2003, Sieber 2005, Head-Konig 2015, Stalder/Stuber 2015, Head-Konig 2019).

It is not only their names, but also their degrees of organisation, their rights and activities, which distinguish these corporations from each other. In its commemorative publication for its fiftieth anniversary, the Swiss Association of Corporations of Citizens and other corporations wrote that in all of Switzerland there were some 2,000 corporations under public law. The Association states that these corporations are not subject to federal law, but exclusively to canton law, which is so different from canton to canton ‘that not one canton could be found where there are just ten corporations of citizens, corporations or patriciates which are identical with each other’ (Gopfert 1994: 15).

The only author, for the time being, who has made the attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of this variety of legal forms for all of Switzerland is August von Miaskowski. In his classical work Die Schweizer Allmend in Hirer geschichtlichen Entwickhmg (1879) he compares Switzerland to a ‘laboratory and a research ward for social policy’ where, in some cantons, ‘a wide share, indeed the biggest share of productive soil is still collective property, as in our time it is otherwise only to be found in Russia’. Miaskowski bases his comparative study on a spatially differentiated list of questions in order to obtain a view of the subtle differences of the commons law, which he believes to be crucial when it comes to social-political effects. For example, he asks for each region, ‘that non-citizen residents are also provided with full or at least quoted shares of the utilisation of commons’, ‘that utilisation is distributed in kind or also in money’, and ‘that those commons plots are distributed long-term or shortterm or lifelong or even hereditarily’ (Miaskowski 1879: VII, XIII).

This Switzerland-wide comparative research design is still inspiring today, although it was not then adopted by historical research. Whereas there were older traditions of researching common property in Alpine regions in France and Italy, in German-speaking countries the research of collective property focused on the distribution of commons in the course of the transition to modernity for a long time (see Suter 1998). Accordingly, these studies mostly dealt with lowlands where the transfer from collective to private property was marked. Common property, which existed on a large scale, mostly in mountainous regions, was clearly less the focus of historical research and was mostly limited to local studies giving an insider’s view of the institutions concerned.

Dealing with common property in the Alpine region was newly stimulated by Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons (Ostrom 1990), which indeed basically rested on Swiss examples, that is on the Valais community of Torbel (Netting 1981). The growing international interest in Swiss commons served as a stimulation for once again examining the whole variety of the phenomenon, beyond the classical example of Torbel. Referring to Ostrom’s classical work and her further developments, a number of analyses were presented, mostly addressing the collective utilisation of resources in the twentieth century (Gerber et al. 2008, Baur and Binder 2013, Tiefenbach 2013, Landolt and Haller 2015, Landolt 2019), but also from a longue duree perspective beyond this time frame (Schlappi 2007, Stalder/Stuber 2015, Schlappi 2018, Schlappi 2019).

We also make use of Elinor Ostrom’s conceptional considerations as analysis tools for the comparative analysis of the landscape of Swiss commons in our case studies, that is the eight design principles which, according to Ostrom, support the robustness of collectively cultivated local resources. These famous principles are supposed to serve less as a fixed research programme for our case studies, however, and more as a source of multiple inspiration. The clear distinction between legitimate users and those who are not entitled to benefit from the resources of the corporation, which is given as a condition (Principle 1), raises an awareness of the exclusion or inclusion of groups. The criterion of regulations being adjusted to local conditions (Principle 2) directs our attention to the natural-spatial compatibility of utilisation. The postulated common decision-making regarding utilisation regulations (Principle 3) leads to questions about the forms of participation. That those actors entrusted with supervising the resource are themselves users or accountable to users (Principle 4) prompts an analysis of the division of labour and communication within the organisation. The intended appropriateness of sanctions (Principle 5) supports a differentiated analysis of the enforcement of levelled sanctions. The demand for mechanisms of conflict-solving that work directly (Principle 6) sharpens our view of the changing cultural, political and legal ways of conflict-solving. The need for a minimum degree of state recognition for collective utilisation rights (Principle 7) directs our attention to the interactions between commoner organisations and superior state authorities. The idea of several levels of interwoven governance structures (Principle 8) motivates a precise reconstruction of local constellations.

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