Posted by: MYPLACE FP7 | April 2, 2012

Political culture and public space in Telheiras and Barreiro

MYPLACE team members Tiago Carvalho, Ana Alexandre, David Cairns and Nuno de Almeida Alves, from Centro de Investigação e Estudos de Sociologia, Lisbon, present notes from recent visits to field sites in Portugal.

For more information on the MYPLACE project visit the project’s website: HERE

Following Martin’s [MYPLACE Project Manager] request for images of our various fieldwork sites, the Portuguese MYPLACE team embarked upon a series of visits to our two chosen research locales: Telheiras, within the city of Lisbon, and across the River Tejo to the city of Barreiro. While we were familiar with these areas due to our experience of conducting WP3, and indeed our own experiences of living in and around the Portuguese capital, we found that many of the images we observed within these two locations told us a lot about overt contrasts in social, economic, cultural and political terms, many of which may be reflected in our forthcoming survey in WP4 and the interviews of WP5. Considering that you will be learning a lot more about these two areas and the young people who live in them later in the project, we thought that we would share some of our photos with you on our first blog, as both a means of providing a visual introduction to later Workpackages and as an exploration of the politicisation of contemporary public space in Portugal.

 Telheiras is a relatively new residential neighbourhood in the heart of Lisbon, not far from the city’s historical centre or indeed the university district. The construction of Telheiras began in the late seventies, on land previously occupied by farms; a heritage that survives to the present day in the form of the many tended gardens and wide open tree-lined streets of the district. Few of today’s residents are farmers: Telheiras residents are predominantly members of what we might call the petit bourgeoisie of university-educated professionals, including some of our own colleagues. While the area is predominantly residential, there is also a thriving communal life in evidence around the various gardens and esplanades, along with commercial activities, including numerous banks, hairdressers and supermarkets. There isn’t a known prevailing political ideology in the neighbourhood, although our WP3 focus group participants were characterised by their conservative values, centring upon the family.

(Garden at Telheiras from which recent buildings and a well-maintained garden can be observed)

(Street in Barreiro, where we can watch some of the degradation of the buildings, but also a poster by the Communist Party contesting the austerity measures being taken by national government, which says: “They rob the people. They sink the country!”)

Barreiro, situated on the other side of the river Tagus, to which travelled via a rather splendid boat trip, was in the past a highly industrialised small city, founded on the cork, metalworking and chemical industries, as well as railroads and nearby shipyards. While some of the chemical industries still operate today, the area seems to be in a period of profound urban, social and economic stagnation. This industrial legacy is however still important in terms of political legacy, due to the presence of the workers’ communist associative movement, and a communitarian life that survives via different civic associations. Concerning youth, there are several youth community and cultural associations, mostly based around various musical groups. If during the period of dictatorship Barreiro was known as the “Portuguese Barcelona,” today we could perhaps re-name it the “Portuguese Manchester:” a city with a thriving independent and alternative musical culture set against a background of post-industrial decline.

 

As our various photos demonstrate, these differences are reflected in the public space of both areas. The leftish/communist influence was very much in evidence in Barreiro, ranging from the variety of signs and street names for the most part connected with the communist and industrial past, and the plethora of political messages postered to walls and fences in relation to the forthcoming general strike. It is also striking how Barreiro celebrates its history: through commemorating the city’s industrial founder, Alfredo da Silva. He is celebrated not only with an impressive statue in the central part of the city at Catarina Eufémia park (named after a figure who is linked with the communist resistance against fascism), a place where the Barreiro Popular Assembly youth movement also normally meets, but also by a huge mausoleum in the now mostly vacant industrial area.

(Alfredo da Silva statue placed in the Catarina Eufémia Park, close to the market, esplanades and the youth space)

Rather strangely, one of the few signs of recent economic activity in this area was a temporary work agency directly facing da Silva’s
tomb.

In contrast, the streets of Telheiras are mostly named after doctors, writers and other bourgeois professions, reflecting the socio-economic profile of the neighbourhood. The area is also adjacent to the Alvalade Stadium, home to Sporting, one of Lisbon’s two main football teams and a side whose supporters tend to be from middle class backgrounds in contract to their more proletarian-based rivals from across the city, Benfica. In our travels through Telheiras, we only found one poster carrying a political message, related to the anti-precarity movement: defending the rights of those in work as opposed to the unemployed. Neither was there any other overt politicisation of the urban space, unlike Barreiro wherein every free space seemed to have been covered in posters.  

(Deutsche Bank poster in their Telheiras agency: “For those who see opportunities in the crisis”)

Ironically, the most striking visual image we found here was in the windows of the local branch of Deutsche Bank, which read: “For those who see opportunities in the [economic] crisis”. Whether or not this was a reflection of the cynicism of the institution or an exhortation to the local community to take advantage of the present economic crisis is unknown, but it was an interesting way of appreciating the differences between the two locations.


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