Soc. Geogr., 2, 11-28, 2007
© Author(s) 2007. This work is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.
24 Jan 2007
The Entlebuchers: people from the back of beyond?
U. Müller and N. Backhaus
Division of Human Geography, Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstr. 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. Incorporated knowledge is structuring the way actors comport themselves and interact with their environment. Knowledge feeds on experiences, especially on recurrent or particularly intense ones. In our media-dominated societies, recurring visual representations of certain facts have a special formative power. Therefore, image analysis provide access to often un-reflected mental images that are to a certain degree the motivations for actions.

With the research project "The power of images" we analysed how images influence sustainable regional development. As case study we analysed the self-determined re-definition of the Swiss Alpine region of Entlebuch as a biosphere reserve. Of the range of approaches open to us, a human geographical perspective was chosen: We were particularly interested in how visual representations suggest certain interactions with space. In order to get an overview of entire, image-laden publications, a quantitative approach was taken using categories of spatial appropriation.

Results show that the outside view conceives the Entlebuch as a largely natural, idyllic region. In terms of the visualization of sustainable development, the biosphere Entlebuch appears to be a nature and landscape conservation project. The inside view (before the crucial poll, where people decided whether to obtain the status of a biosphere reserve or not) looked totally different: In the voter's information brochure the Entlebuch is presented as a (relatively modern) living and production space. Nearly no visual images depicting the Entlebuch as natural environment and idyllic cultural landscape respectively were published. Taking the historical and socio-economical context of the Entlebuch into consideration, the promoters of the biosphere reserve wanted to get rid of its backward image. However, two years after the poll the same promoters changed the way Entlebuch is presented in order to address the values of the target groups outside the region. Therefore, mere aesthetic images of nature and cultural landscapes were published.

The study shows that image analysis can provide access to mental images that form part of practical knowledge (or even the unconscious) rather than of verbalised knowledge, for instance those which image producers might not be able to explain well during an interview. We can also detect the use of stereotypes, to which the image producers might not always want to admit. The developed method of image analysis is an attempt to process and analyse a great number of images without neglecting their context nor the reference to the research question.

Citation: Müller, U. and Backhaus, N.: The Entlebuchers: people from the back of beyond?, Soc. Geogr., 2, 11-28, doi:10.5194/sg-2-11-2007, 2007.
Final revised paper
Discussion paper