Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Switzerland - Is It Real?

This is a Travel Geographer Blog only postThere was a story this morning on NPR's morning edition that struck me as the essence of a Geographic Sense of Place story. If you go to NPR's Morning Edition website, the story is listed with this description:

Farm Subsidies Debated in Global Trade Talks - by Kathleen Schalch - Morning Edition, October 11, 2005 · U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman is in Switzerland Tuesday to revive stalled global trade talks deadlocked over demands that wealthy countries limit protections for their own farmers. The Bush administration says it is ready to slash U.S. farm subsidies if others do the same, but many countries are reluctant.

The URL is: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4953604 -- Note that if you cannot open the Listen link, you need to go to help to change your default audio player for NPR program

However, this is really a story about the cultural landscape of Switzerland and how it is heavily subsidized by the Swiss government (covering up to 90% of the annual incomes of some farmers) for the purposes of tourism and museumization. Museumization is a term coined by geographer Ed Relph in his 1976 book, Place and Placelessness. It refers to efforts to keep some landscapes from naturally changing and evolving over time -- that is, to freeze them, as if they were in a museum. Relph argues that museumization is an example of inauthenticity and placelessness.

Now I have been to Switzerland and I found the rural landscape, with its high mountain farms, both fascinating and beautiful. However, is it real? If the government needs to use tax dollars to provide 60% to 90% of the income to those who are living that rural lifestyle, then I personally think it is more of a museum than a living landscape. And the Swiss tax payers, andlong with tourists, are paying for the museum to stay open, which may not be a bad thing at all. But at least now you know.

In the context of the NPR description, above, perhaps if Switzerland were to argue that this is not an agricultural subsidy, but a salary for workers in a "living museum," then perhaps it would shift a good part of the global trade discussions. -- Probably not, but a thought.

What do you think? Listen to the story above, and post your comments to this blog, or direclty to me at travelgeographer@msn.com

Happy Trails