Territories, economies and societies

The Territories, economies and societies research group is currently composed of sixteen researchers from the universities of Lyon and Grenoble. The group approaches the subject from two closely-linked perspectives: the economic and the spatial. While the economic perspective is a well-established one within the LARHRA research centre, the group has chosen to focus in particular on the spatial dimension, and the way in which it links different economic, technical, social, cultural and political processes at the global level.



The territory is a concept enmeshed in a particular social and historical context, and is the site for the application of political decisions and economic policies, and for a wide variety of social practices, processes and forms of representation. The territory is an organised and conceptualised space, but also sometimes an imagined one. It is a space to exploit, to control and to subdue, but can equally be a space seen as fragile and delicate – a place to protect or even to be given the status of a refuge or sanctuary. The territory can be coterminous with the town as with the countryside, and with lowland as with highland regions. It can also be linked to notions of landscape and the environment. The Territories, economies and societies research group is currently studying three historical aspects of the territory: the economic territory; social and cultural identity; and spatial management and the environment. Work on these new projects has contributed to the construction of a research network at the regional, national and international level; not just among historians, but among other researchers in the humanities and social sciences, and in the earth and biological sciences. The organisation of joint research projects, seminars and conferences in both Lyon and Grenoble has strengthened links between the members of the group. The group’s work places the emphasis on the social history of all groups in society at both macro and micro levels (and the relations between the two), examines the history of social networks, and seeks to use both qualitative and quantitative methods.



Research projects

1. Economic territories: centre and periphery
The subject of the economic territory is approached from the perspective of the functioning of the market and regulatory mechanisms. It is seen as a system; one where for economic actors there is permanent tension between competition and cooperation. Three aspects of the subject have been chosen for particular attention: (1) the role of institutions and organisations (notably employers’ organisations); (2) the role of actors and their practices in territorial processes (notably the role of adaptation to industrialisation and deindustrialisation at the level of the individual, the family and the group over the longue durée; a process which involves transformation, adaptation, retraining and loss); and finally (3) consumption and resources (which involves a variety of subjects, including the archaeology of millstones, mass consumption, the credit market and the market in luxury goods).


2. Socio-cultural identity and representations
This research thread focuses on the social and cultural dimensions of space, notably the issues of inclusion-exclusion and identity and belonging, whether real or symbolic. A key focus is that of memory and identity studied over the longue durée; looking at the construction of narrative, whatever the chosen means of expression (the written word, the image or oral communication). Among the themes addressed by the group are geographical and scientific knowledge in the early modern period; the knowledge produced by scholars and historians; and the role of institutions and the media in the heritage-branding of particular territories. Members of the group also study the patterns and processes of geographical mobility; how they contribute to territorial fragmentation and raise issues relating to the notions of borders and border zones. Another topic studied by the group is the role of environmental knowledge in structuring the relationships between culture and nature and humankind and nature; whether in the context of ethological knowledge or the territorial identity of nature reserves.


3. Spatial management and the environment
This research thread is closely linked to the previous two, and builds on the work of the group during the last ten years on the social and cultural history of natural disaster prevention; examining shifting conceptions of “acceptable” risk with regard to planning decisions and prevention strategies. The current research project examines the social construction of risk and the processes by which particular threats are designated against a background of growing concerns over climate change. It also studies the mechanisms of fear and resilience in the face of proven or predicted natural disasters. These issues are related to the social and environmental aspects of industrial development, of which the aluminium industry is taken as a case study. A final area of interest for the group is the issue of housing; its social implications and the actors contributing to debates on the question.