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As part of the ANR DARWIN, the methodological approach was conceived in order to allow researchers to collect detailed data about the alpinists actions, interactions and decisions throughout the project duration (2008-2011), combining a longitudinal case study with an ethnographic study of the expedition itself, both in situ and in real time (Musca et al., 2010).


A longitudinal case study spanned all three phases of the expedition and was then combined with an in situ ethnographic study devoted to the expedition itself.

  • Preparatory phase (autumn 2008 – summer 2009):

During this phase, the researchers interviewed the climbers, participated in team meetings and collected various documents.

  • The expedition (September – November 2009):

The ethnographic study was conducted throughout the actual expedition phase, during autumn 2009.

The four researchers split up into two teams of two to ensure a maximum presence during the six-week expedition. They were housed at the various base camps with the climbers and could directly observe numerous situations and conversations, in addition to engaging in face-to-face interactions and interviews with expedition team members. They also participated in some selected team activities and were even able to collect first-hand data when the team was climbing in the Cordillera (via VHF radio link, Iridium phone calls, diaries, videos). The fifth researcher assigned to this project was stationed remotely to observe staging of the expedition; his recordings then served to cross-reference the various analyses.

A substantial amount of data could be collected on how climbing team members actually behave and handle decision-making challenges given the unforeseeable and erratic nature of so many situations encountered. The data recorded included: direct observations, participant observations including selected team activities at the base camp, reconnaissance itineraries and transfer hikes, taped interactions (90+ hours) and videos (80+ hours), interviews (40+ hours), and personal diaries/logs.


  • The post-expedition phase:

Once the expedition had been completed, the data collection effort continued, consisting mainly of focused post-expedition interviews, exchanges held with the alpinists, in particular during screenings of the film produced as part of the project (“Darwin: The Secret Cordillera”, television broadcasts and screenings during conferences).