Black Lives Matter in Portugal?

In one of the first posts I published on this blog, I wondered about the taboo surrounding questions of racism in Portugal. The last months have been the occasion for Portuguese to reflect more on this topic.

@N. Mordechai. Graffiti in Calçada da Gloria, Lisbon

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, USA, on 25 May 2020, protests errupted around the world, including in Portugal. 5000 people gathered in Lisbon and more than a thousand in Porto, united around the issue of Black Lives Matter. In Lisbon, apart from the protests, some also participated in attempting to bring down statues associated with colonialism and racism, including the controversial statue of Padre António Vieira (which I visited a few days later to find it already cleaned up, as if nothing had happened). I put an image of the statue here below. It seemed to have been vandalised by an informal collective called Desconolizando, but this act was then condemned by SOS Racismo for hate speech…

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Public service work and discretion in migration policies

A publication is out!

Some weeks ago, the RIEM (Revista Internacional de Estudios Migratorios) published my article “The role of established immigrants within institutionalised immigrant integration in Israel. I wrote this article after having submitted my dissertation, with the idea to focus on one aspect of it: street level bureaucrats.

As a matter of fact, a large part of the interviews I conducted was with persons working in municipalities and other governement agencies, and were in direct contact with the residents. They were part of the welfare department, the employment department and more frequently, the department dealing with immigration and so-called integration-related matters.

The many differences I could spot between each city’s policies were in part to be attributed to these street level bureaucrats. I tried to make sense of it through this article.

This has also impacted our arrival in Portugal. Throughout the administrative maze that one immigrant follows, one can only recognise the high level of discretion public service workers have: at the tax office, at social security, at the clinic, and at the home office (SEF here in Portugal). Every person tells a different story, and by coming twice for the same thing, you might get two different responses.

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Borders, peripheries and the “subnational”

Last April 2019, I participated in the ECPR Joint Sessions in Mons. More specifically, I joined the workshop entitled “Subnational Immigration Policies and Politics: Towards a Second Generation Research Agenda”. Led by three political scientists from both sides of the Atlantic, the workshop aimed at sharing our research projects and getting quality feedbacks by peers.

Two months have passed since that week, but I still thought it would be of interest to reflect on the questions we addressed together. On the first day, the conveyors started the session with a set of questions, which they would eventually come back to the last day:

  • What do we mean by “subnational” and “local”?
  • What can we learn when looking at the subnational level?
  • What are the relations between various levels (of policymaking and politics)?
  • What are the actors and the targeted beneficiaries of these policies?

My co-author and I were the first ones to present. I, for my part, introduced my doctoral project, and presented my work on four cities located at the borders of Israel. And right after, the first comment made by the discussant related to the broader question “what is the subnational?”. Is it the municipal level? If so, are the cities connected?

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Enquiring at the border

In the last year of my PhD, and after months of writing, I decided to update the title of my thesis. First named Local policies for the integration of new Jewish immigrants (Olim) in peripheral Israel, it became Governing or being governed? A scalar approach of the transformation of State power and authority through the case of immigration and integration policies of four frontier towns in Israel.

This was a source of debate with my supervisor, and later with the examiners that attended the defence. Why using the term “frontier”? One of the examiners even stated: “I would comment that the use of the term frontier towns is a bit pretentious and indeed the author mentions the alternating use of ‘small and mid- sized cities’ and ‘peripheries’”.

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Creative geographies and the “creative class”: are we participating in neoliberalising the academia?

The last years, I have grown into a “visual” enthusiast. I am now part of the “creative” scholars, advocating for a visual methodology – that I understand as a way to access knowledge through the production of still or moving images, of counter-cartographies, or of any other forms of art.

As a matter of fact, I co-edit a volume on visual methodologies, volume which I have bragged about in a recent post. In this book, we include contributions of colleagues who have all approached their fieldwork through the visual.

I am also teaching a four-session seminar on visual methodology in migration studies, to a little group of PhD students at my university. Through this seminar, I encourage them to find their creative voice in order to better involve their participants, but also to gain tools to be activist.

And even if I look at the last conferences I attended: Harriet Hawkins, encouraging us to be “makers” (see the book on creative geographies); Rickie Sanders who argues that she brings her camera everywhere because “it sees what she cannot see”; or even the decolonising museums conference I attended last week, which brough the idea that we ought to – through a umcomfortable, labourious process – be creative about how we de-colonialise the collections of our museums… All these scientific events advocate for the adoption of a visual methodology.

But, are we pushed to be creative at any cost? Are we just checking the boxes to get grants or simply, an academic career?

Somehow, the creative craze became associated, in my mind, with Florida’s “creative class” nonsense: are we simply enabling the hidden talents among us scientists to blossom? Or are we forcing a generation of scholars to be creative, and hence creating a new desirable category?

I have always loved drawing and painting. I took classes for years during my childhood and teenagehood. More recently, filming has grown on me. But I am a bit afraid that this will be soon imposed on us, together with publishing in top-ranking journals, raising funds, and a whole range of skills that researchers are meant to acquire, beyond being just good researchers and teachers.

I understand that I write about my fears here. I, for myself, think that amazing works have emerged from this new recognition. But while teaching the students, I wondered if this should be pushed on them? And while thinking of my own research, I wonder how to actually commit to my creative self, aside from outside pressure…

Retiring in Portugal: Is it really the dream?

Last week-end, I visited my family in France. We were having some coffee when one relative suddenly asked me: “Do you find it normal that people go to Portugal to retire and do not make taxes not in France nor in Portugal!” She goes on: “I saw on TV that Portugal put together a scheme to help its economy, but if the beneficiaries of the scheme do not pay taxes, how does it help the economy?”. 

Let alone the fact that I was surprised that this piece of news was significant in the countryside in Bretagne, far away from the main Portuguese communities established in France, I wondered: is it really scandalous? How many people really benefit from that? Did not they work their whole life and deserve a nice retirement? I also thought of the first people I met in the north, and I found it difficult to believe that they were returning to their home villages in order to escape taxes!

Credit: Fernando Ricardo

So legally, what happens?

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Writing, filming, producing knowledge?

I start this post with great news: we (and I’ll describe immediately who is we) just won the IMISCOE book competition with our proposal entitled: “Visual Methods in Migration Studies: new possibilities, theoretical implications, and ethical questions”.

As a matter of fact, two years after we started consolidating the idea, together with INTEGRIM colleagues, and two years after our first panel in the IMISCOE conference in Rotterdam, the collective effort to address questions of visual methodologies in the field of international migrations finally paid off. If all goes well, in summer 2020, we should have a 18-chapter edited volume on the topic!

I am absolutely excited about the project, involving my co-editor Karolina Nikielska-Sekula, and my brilliant colleagues, who work on a range of diverse cases. Nevertheless, this also means that this year, there is going to be a LOT of writing, editing and coordinating. I guess that we will all have to invest a tremendous amount of time. I first felt that this would disconnect me from my current research project.

But will it really?

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When the church deals with migration and settlement

On 22 January 2019, I participated in an event organised by Caritas Portugal, and the Parliament of Portugal, entitled: Pacto Global para as Migrações Ordenadas, Seguras e Regulares – da sua adoção à implementação nacional. The main objective of the event was to provide an assessment of the activities carried out in Portugal since the Global Compact signed in Marrakesh on 10 and 11 December 2018.

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How does the State support return?

The last month, I have shared some facts and figures regarding returning flows to Portugal, and to the north-eastern regions in particular. I have also showed a correlation between traditional areas of out-migration, returns, and location of one of the support mechanism found in Portuguese institutions: the Gabinete de Apoio ao Emigrante.

Let me detail a bit more the various mechanisms that support returning citizens who resided outside of Portugal.

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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?

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Are Portuguese colour-blind?

At the end of September, I went to Entrecampos Municipality to get my residency. As I walk towards the building, a huge banner crosses its facade: Welcome Migrants: Lisboa sabe acolher.

I sent the picture of the facade to a colleague, and he replied sarcastically: “yeah, right”.

That banner resonnated with other sentences I heard before: that there was no problem of racism in Portugal, no movements against migrations, no extreme-right parties feeding on xenophobia. But… really?

As it happens, this is a whole “thing”. Portugal has built a narrative of “colour-blindness”. This narrative revolves around a so-called “Portuguese way of being in the world”, derived from the age of the “discoveries”, then the colonial empire, and later on (that is post-dictature and decolonisation), the diasporic lives of Portuguese immigrants around the world (see Almeida & Corkill, 2015; or Cunha, 2017). As a matter of fact, one in five Portuguese live abroad today, and as I stated in my previous post, ties with groups of Portuguese living outside of Portugal are not only family ties, but also exist through national institutions.

These many individual and national experiences of crossing the boundaries of continental Portugal – according to this narrative – have enriched the Portuguese people and enabled a more pluralist attitude towards immigration.

That seems nice indeed. But as much as our French Republican education seems relatively powerless when it comes to facing the terrible rethoric of the Front National in France, isn’t this narrative just as nice smoke screen too? If I look at how manpower is distributed in my faculty, at how residential patterns work in the city of Lisbon, or just listen to flat-hunting experiences (being a French or a Brazilian for instance), I cannot help but think: to which extent does the sentence on that huge banner at the municipality actually lead to freezing the debate?  

Moreover, this week, we had the chance to spend four long hours at SEF, the foreigners’ service, for visa purposes. Not a soul spoke English. And no one cared to explain what they would do with the lot of personal private data we gave out (including fingerprints, identification documents, bank account statements… and so on), as if the data management scheme approved earlier at the EC was unheard of in these services.

In the meantime, I started to dive into the critical literature that has focused on deconstructing this narrative of Portuguese cosmopolitanism. More thoughts to come!