From Galegos to La Fontañera: walking on the smugglers’ path

I spent the week-end in northern Alentejo, in the natural park of Serra de São Mamede. And what started with a family hiking week-end, ended up in a research stroll!

On Saturday, we made our way to Castelo de Vide. The village hosts a museum in the old Synagogue, at the top of the old Jewish quarter (or the Judiaria), which was about to close for lunch time. We ran up the Judiaria to enter the museum. This was not the first time that I found myself in a museum dedicated to the Jewish communities that once lived at the Portuguese borders. In Bragança, a museum is dedicated to the Sephardic culture in the northern Tras-os-Montes region.

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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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