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11.00  Literary Heritage and Place Building for Communities: The Case of Allier, France

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Literature not only takes part in the construction of its own geography in the text, or causes a modification of the urban or rural development, but its geography takes an active part in the construction of a social and political space. Literary heritage tourism is a subfield of cultural tourism which concerns places or routes associated to an authors’ life or artistic production and is a good illustration of literature capacity to build place. In a postmodern context of increasing touristic offer and demand, literary tourism is often seen as a niche, an originality factor and a guaranty of authenticity by local development actors and by visitors. This paper, consequently, is interested in this dialectic between places and literary heritage. 

The paper will approach literary heritage through a participatory action research that focuses on citizen associations that promote literary heritage of the Allier department, France. It is also based on the principles of social innovation where all participating actors recognize a need to act in the field of local development. All share a project of literary place-building, but the various literary heritages call for diversified visions of what should constitute a literary basis for the development of a local literary identity. Using focus groups and individual interviews, the research finds an operational goal in producing a website designed by the associations and with the objective of giving more visibility and accessibility to literary heritage in Allier. By uniting the territorial actors that share literary heritage transmission as their mission, the hope is to give extra value to an otherwise underexploited resource. Finally, the central operational objective is the creation of a “Writers trail of Allier” that would connect literary places and create a long lasting dynamics in local literary tourism. 

Through this cooperation process of participatory research, the paper will thus explore the construction process of literary tourism in Allier. It will particularly look at how local associations build on literary heritage to produce places and representations of places aimed at touristic consumption. The fact that no less than a dozen local groups each dealing with a different author and, consequently a different social, historical, and spatial heritage in link with the author’s work or life, is particularly challenging in building a tourist route. Each association carries forward its own vision of literature and literary heritage and each engages local political action differently. Our paper will explore how these projects in literary heritage place-building are sometimes in tension with the vision of local political authorities or other territorial stakeholders.

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