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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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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On the non-habitual resident status: more retirees and less “creative” than hoped?

I recently posted a description of the incentives created by the Portuguese government to attract migrants and returnees.

One mechanism in particular is the target of parliament members in particular and the public in general: the non-habitual resident status. Quick reminder: if you have lived outside of Portugal for the last five years, and you now live more than 182 days per year in the country, you can lower your income tax to a flat 20% rate, and this during 10 years. The main objective of this mechanism is to attract both high-skilled workers and retirees (and this is stated in official documents issued by the tax office). 

But, as I enter the teachers’ room for my lunch break last week, Público’s front page reads: Tax bonus only attracted 8% of brains to Portugal. As a matter of fact, among the 27.367 beneficiaries, there are 2140 “brains”: 1024 are senior management workers in private businesses, 384 engineers, 170 high-tech workers, 80 researchers, 50 IT programmers, 48 professors, 45 fiscal consultants, 42 designers… and “at the end of the table”, says the journalist, seven singers, six musicians, five painters, four psychologists, two sculptors, a surgeon, a dentist and a paediatrician.

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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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Brexit and Portuguese emigration

The deal negotiated by May has been rejected, and European member states prepare for a no deal Brexit.
What does it mean for Portugal you may ask?
Well, one thing is what it means for Portuguese in the UK. I just came across today’s news and here is a screenshot of what worries Portugal.

With more than 300,000 Portuguese living in the UK, consular services are expected to be more solicited than usual, says the article, and this will require extra resources.

I did some homework, since this is not really my field, and it seems that the fear comes from the fact that without a deal, the March 2018 draft withdrawal agreement which provides that “a number of residency rights for EU citizens and their families, whether EU citizens or not, would be protected and continue in the same way as they currently exist under EU law” (see Adrienne Yong’s article on the topic) will not be applied. The EU settlement scheme is a partial success and it is not clear if it will continue. And the transition period provided by the now rejected deal (until December 2020) is at risk.

And indeed, in a fact sheet created by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, published in 2016, it was stated “EEA migrants and their family members should be able to continue to exercise treaty rights to live, work and study in the UK until such a time as negotiations for the UK to officially leave the EU have come to a conclusion”. Well… No conclusion yet…

If this is not yet clear what will happen next, the 3 million EU residents in the UK are quite uncertain of their future status, including the 10% Portuguese among them.

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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First visit to Trás-os-Montes

Memorias do Salto.

That was the event I came across while scrutinising the webpage of Vinhais municipality last month. The cultural centre of Vinhais was hosting, after Bragança’s Museu Abade de Baçal, and Mogadouro, the interactive exhibition Memorias do Salto.

I decided to go to the opening, organised last Friday evening in Vinhais. I took an early bus in Lisbon, and… seven hours later, I arrived at the neighbouring city Bragança.

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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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