Back to the Mediterranean? Return Migration and Regionalist Discourse in Spain
(University of Nevada)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores how Spanish return migrants, arriving home from northern Europe to a Spain in economic distress, are reconceptualizing the meaning of Spain's "Mediterraneaness." Ethnography of this case reorients and thus reinvigorates theoretical frames for an anthropology of the Mediterranean.
Paper long abstract:
Spain's place in the Mediterranean has long been understood in terms of its historical and contemporary entanglements with North Africa. But how do Spanish interactions with Northern Europe illuminate what gets defined as "Mediterranean"? During the Franco dictatorship, many Spaniards emigrated north, fleeing unemployment and political repression. Today, thousands have returned home, believing Spain had achieved political and economic stability. Their return was supposed to signal Spain's full membership in the European "club," ending the labor migration that long marked Spain as Europe's Mediterranean periphery. But returnees arrive amid Spain's dramatic return to a situation of economic hardship, political instability, and a renewed sense of marginality to Europe. Returnees often grapple with the disappointments of return by ruefully explaining that Spain has failed in Europe because it is "too Mediterranean," citing corruption, Catholicism, or lack of industrialization. Yet, they also blame Europe, criticizing EU policy, the Euro currency, and "European capitalist values." In this discourse, returnees find the solution to the current crisis in what they cast as good Mediterranean values—strong kin networks, a commitment to "the good life," and honorable social behavior. Based on fieldwork with returnees, I trace how they both rebuff and embrace tropes of Mediterraneanness. I argue that returnees' discourse echoes and revives old Mediterraneanist anthropological tropes of "honor" and "shame," here not as questions of essentialized gender and kin relations, but as framings for a broader political discourse of ambivalence about being Mediterranean as shameful and/or honorable vis-à-vis Europe.
Locating the Mediterranean: connections and separations across space and time