Geographies of return

Last week, I participated in an exciting study day organised in one of the research units of Paris Diderot University: URMIS. The programme is available here.

The day offered a somewhat “state-of-the-art”, and key personalities of the field were invited. The organisers briefly stated the funding works of Michel Oriol and Albano Cordeiro, and then, we heard lectures of Victor Pereira, Sonia Ferreira, Dominique Vidal, Inês Espiritu Santo, Guillaume Etienne, Filomena Silvano, Jean-Luc Primon, José Mapril and Irène de Santos.

Needless to say that it became a great literature review for me, where we span various issues related to French-Portuguese mobilities, from labour integration to media production.

Each paper was discussed by a researcher who does not work on Portugal. And one of the most frequent theme, was the one of the specificities of this national group. In essence, is it still relevant to study “the Portuguese”? They are, since 1986, EU citizens, free of their movement, and in a scientific context that has called to go beyond methodological nationalism, does it still make sense?

While I was working on my doctoral project, this methodological issue seemed central to me, and I decided to adopt a de-centred approach by focusing on subnational immigration policies. My idea, at the time, was to look at specific cities, rejecting an a priori “ethnic lense” and the assumption that immigration policies were made at national level. The same concern appears here, in this project. Looking again at border areas enables to escape the nation-state framing. Nevertheless, I did apply a national filter, absent in my Phd project: I suggested to focus on French-Portuguese mobilities.

I proposed several ideas to overcome this categorisation: one of them was, to consider all types of return, and not only the statistical ones.

But, the figures are against me: it seems that the French-Portuguese flows are on top of all sorts of circulation. I’m saying that ironically obviously. What I want to say is that this category might be difficult to escape because of the very numbers.

In fact, I used the Final results to the 2011 census in order to sketch this map: 

Author: Amandine Desille (2018)

If we look only at government statistic, the areas (municipios* in the administrative lexicon of Portugal) that receive the highest proportion of individuals that were formerly residing out of Portugal are the traditional out-migration regions: Minho and Tras-os-Montes. And among those, as well as some more regions highlighted in yellow on the map, almost half of incoming former foreign-residents come from… France! Just imagine if we also take into account recreational returns, short-term returns, and circulations!

So, choosing Tras-os-Montes and Beira regions seems to make a lot of sense when it comes to studying any kind of international incoming flux. But, they are also the areas (with some smaller coastal areas) where the ones that come from France are the most numerous: the question that remains, and only fieldwork will provide some answers, is if this is a category that makes sense for the interviewees and for the support system available for returnees, and how it becomes an operating category for further research… (aside from the mere fieldwork selection I did).

*A small note on administrative divisions in Portugal. Here, the NBS uses the term municipios, which somewhat correlate with the historical districts, now (after the reshuffling occuring between 2003 and 2013) named Comunidades intermunicipais. However, there are some differences. For instance, in the previous maps I showed (based on an intermunicipal community division), Alto de Tras-os-Montes was divided between Terras de Tras-os-Montes and Alto-Tamega. Same for the Beira region, divided differently if we look at municipios or comunidades intermunicipais…


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