Relations to land in the Eastern Alps.The challenge of framing comparative questions
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Comparison as one of the core element of anthropological thinking has been brought to its best in a classical study of a European alpine region. Cole and Wolf’s The Hidden Frontier; Ecology and Ethnicity in an Alpine Valley (1974) is based on joint ethnographic fieldwork in Italy, conducted over three years in the 1960s in two adjacent villages at the border of South Tyrol and Trentino. As a first anthropological study of ethnicity in Europe the authors questioned, and finally refuted, a fundamental assumption of the cultural-ecological approach in anthropology, that similar environmental conditions lead to similar forms of social life. This also questioned the suppositions (many of which were based on Steward, 1972 ) of their contemporary American colleagues, doing research in the Alps at that time. Would Cole and Wolf have had the same insights, would their results have been similarly ground-breaking and sustainable in time – we are still gaining valuable understandings from this study – had they not based their analysis on comparison?