Apresentação

Projecto financiado pela FCT. Instituição Proponente: Instituto de Investigação Científica e Tropical. PTDC/CS-ANT/102862/2008. Investigadora responsável: Maria Clara Saraiva

In spite of the interest that the recent status of Portugal as an immigration country arises and all the research that has been done, some important issues dealing with immigrant´s states of suffering and death, the “states of affliction” have hardly been dealt with. Death, in particular, remains a difficult but crucial aspect that has not been touched by the studies on migration.
How do immigrants perceive death and dying and incorporate them in their conceptualization of the diaspora? How do different immigrant groups conceptualize other groups´ suffering and death? How do the Portuguese look upon the death of the immigrants, a subject ever hardly spoken of and which raises a series of prejudices and mystifications?
In a western society where death has become a major taboo, and is thought of as something that only happens to the others, this estrangement towards life´s last rite of passage moves on to the realm of myth and prejudices that affect immigrants in Portugal, and the invisibility of death becomes a true reality. Yet, for immigrants themselves, it is a reality that often conditions the relation with the home country. Death is thus here looked upon not as a moment in time but as a process, which involves specific emotional states and triggers the use of rituals in order to cope with the unavoidable distress, acquiring more complicated aspects when away from home.
We propose to study the multiple levels that death touches upon, from the symbolic to the more practical ones. Death is one realm in which a transnational approach is mandatory—along with critical debate on the meaning of “transnational” and its manifold features. It entails an intense circulation of material goods and wealth, but also of highly symbolic significant universes which circulate along with the goods and the people: the corpse, but also the spirits and the relations with the other world that people brought along into the diaspora situation. Trapped in a condition of liminality, part of two worlds — the home grounds and the novel territory they try to adapt to—, wishing for a justification to go home, it is often death that triggers the movement: either the death of someone here and the body that has to be sent back or the death of someone dear back home. Such circulation luxury becomes real through solidarity movements based on associations of migrants or some type of intra-groups solidarity.
Using the research skills and knowledge of the field of migration in Portugal provided by the members of the group “Immigration and Health”(GIS), of which the PI is co-coordinator, and the know-how of the researchers that have all been working either on the subject of death and/or immigration, this project aims at deconstructing prejudiced notions of what happens with the immigrants´ dead bodies, including symbolic representations as well as practical issues, such as legal processes involved to send the bodies home. It intends to be a first exploratory study on a subject that has been left void. We are aware that we cannot deal with the whole universe of Portuguese contemporary immigration, but we can start, and maybe on a later study, go further.
This research will be directed at different immigrant groups— from Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Angola, Brazil, Ukrania, Bangladesh and China—, emphasizing the heterogeneity of Portuguese immigration. These groups were chosen for two reasons: they are good examples of this heterogeneity, since they represent some of the most important groups of immigrants; and the researchers in the team have the knowledge and the know-how to pursue this study, since all of them have been working for several years with these groups, both in their home countries and in Portugal.
Only through the confrontation of the different ways that various groups conceptualize death can we start to understand the constants and disparities that characterize such groups, and bring insight into the much debated condition of immigrants as vulnerable populations. The Portuguese, as host population, will also be inquired, in order to identify the way the suffering and death of the immigrant “other” are conceptualized. The results of this research will have implications at the civil society level, providing insights and needed assessments on the much debated idea of the Portuguese racism.
The emphasis will be put on the recollection of ethnographic data, totally inexistent in this theme. Participant observation will take place and the techniques of depth interviews and life-stories in will be used. Several case studies will be followed and analysed, as examples of what happens with immigrants in such situations. We will work with immigrants´associations, as well as with other intervenients in the process– hospitals, funerary agencies, diplomatic and border authorities and religious institutions. Ethnographic analysis will be complemented with a small scale survey and a media study.

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