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Reflections on privileges within international youth mobilities to Lisbon

Date: March 15, 2021

By: Lea Molina Caminero

Picture: a young man is longing for a better lifestyle in the Southern periphery in order to combine lifestyle with work. To achieve this goal, obstacles for North-South migrants tend to be relatively low. Photography by author

As part of my master’s thesis, I looked at lifestyle-oriented youth mobilities to Lisbon. In recent years, Lisbon has not only become a magnet for tourists, but also for international students, investment migrants and lifestyle-oriented migrants. Attracted by Lisbon’s increasing offer in creative digital industries and its accompanying infrastructures, Lisbon becomes constructed as a place with a high quality of life which is influenced by touristic imaginaries of the good life (a.o. sunny weather, vibrant city sphere, closeness to the sea). In times when remote work is becoming more and more the norm, young individuals are increasingly able to change their place of residence and thus, combine their work with their desired lifestyle. In doing so, they tend to approach migration as an on-going rite of self-realization and as an identity-giving ‘process of becoming’. Accordingly, the possibility to be able to connect identity-giving imaginaries of labour, place and the self with each other, has to be considered as a new transnational self-conception within the European middle-class. It is to assume that this transnational self-conception is based on power asymmetries within the intra-EU mobility regime which allow some individuals to move easier than others.

Drawing on qualitative data collected through guideline-based biographic interviews with young transnational lifestyle-led migrants in Lisbon, in my thesis I explore how privileges but also precarities are manifested and negotiated in their place-making processes. Compared to research findings on retirement migration, it is striking that work-related aspects play a dominant role in the lifestyle-related considerations on how to live and resulting migratory movements of young migrants. Rather than combining holidays with work, they seek for a better balance of work and leisure, leaving well-paid jobs in order to work within a field which fits better to their values and identities. Hence, they are able to re-invent themselves in a new chosen place of living and working. 

Accordingly, for them, lifestyle-oriented migration is also labour migration. Undoubtedly, it is an immense privilege to be able to combine lifestyle with work. The hurdles to realise individual self-realisations – like go freelance as a surfboard shaper, photographer or to build up an own coffee shop – are far lower than for less privileged migrants. Moreover, the privilege of being able to try things out – in different fields of work and in different places in the world – is directly linked to social but also economic safety nets that are tied to categories such as citizenship, social class but also whiteness, producing different stratifications within the mobility regime. 

While narrating their representations of the place and the self, the interviewed young transnationals represent themselves as being ‘aware’ of inherited privileges which leads to socio-spatial strategies of demarcation from investment migrants but also from tourists. Processes of belonging and resulting socio-spatial practices offer interesting insights into their constant process of negotiation of their role and position as a relatively privileged foreigners in the city. 

More information

Molina Caminero, L. (2020): “Longing for a better lifestyle”. The role of privileges, belonging and place (re-)making within international youth mobilities to Lisbon. Master Thesis, M.A. Social Geography, University of Osnabrueck.

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