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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Dream house for sale: a glimpse in the real estate of returnees in Northern Portugal

This winter, I received a beautiful book entitled Dream Houses, by Roselyne de Villanova, Carolina Leite & Isabel Raposo (1994).

This was a great preview before I decided to spend a long week-end doing fieldwork in the north. I felt ready to identify the houses built by returnees from the 1980s on, houses that seemed to have upset many. In fact, built based on a French-style construction at the outskirts of the villages, these houses were accused of ruining the landscape. 

With this in mind, on a Friday morning beginning of February, I drove out of Lisbon towards Tras-os-Montes. After Mirandela, I left the highway in direction of Vinhais. I passed a beautiful countryside, green and pampered. However, throughout the villages, I was amazed by the amount of houses, including the immigrants’ houses, which looked unfinished, closed or abandoned… some had a sign VENDE hanging. For instance, Mouca looked like a beautiful place, but on Wikipedia, you could read that residents dropped from 800 to 260 residents in the last sixty years. And many houses were closed.

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