Portraits of the Portuguese Territory

Portugal faces serious obstacles to development and territorial cohesion, based on strong identifiable and known asymmetries. Recent national and European policies focus on valuing regional identity, widely understood as the way to create new dynamics in a framework of sustainability and quality of life for citizens.

This focus on regional specificity translates into its cultural and architectural heritage, environmental and natural value, and must also consider its hybrid characteristics, whether urban centres, industrial and rural territories, or, as in much of the territory, the networks that cross it. However, this aim of regional progress has persistent constraints on action that must be identified, as they condition effective intervention and effective use of the European support and investment programmes available to Portugal. This is the context that arouses the elaboration of this synthesis dossier, which aims to be only part of a collective contribution and a positive dynamic to highlight the feasibility of cooperation and the active involvement of academia, local authorities, expert partners and young talents of this country in addressing the opportunities that the regions hold.


Project Committee: Serra Henriques Foundation

General coordination: Inês Moreira [Universidade Nova de Lisboa]

Scientific coordination: Álvaro Domingues [University of Porto]

From the work of the geographer Orlando Ribeiro remained a larger work - Portugal, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic - which remarkably expresses reasons for the country's strong asymmetry despite its small size. This asymmetry plunges into the long time of history and the even longer time of biophysical processes, from climate to geomorphology. Other more recent authors, geographers such as João Ferrão, speak of the archipelago country. Boaventura Sousa Santos uses the expression semi-periphery to characterize the contradictions and contrasts of Portugal in the face of the world's multipolarity. We could go on citing more authors and reference works. We would always come to similar conclusions about Portuguese society/territory, among others:

  • an extremely varied mosaic of socio-territorial formations;

  • an asymmetrical evolution of this asymmetry, depending on the historical contexts present (post-World War II emigration, industrialization, deruralization, urbanization, etc.);
  • a persistence of the pre-modern rural marks partly through conservationism and the closure of the Estado Novo dictatorship in a period of accelerated modernization, namely in Europe
  • a macrocephaly that persists and that will have to do with centuries (since the origin of the nation) of centralization of power and the strong influence of the State;
  • a strong dependence on international conjunctures due to the fragility and double dependence of the national economy (strongly importing and exporting at the same time).

At a time when social dynamics are fast, chaotic and unstable due to the very opacity of deepening globalization, Portugal mixes everything from socio-territorial contexts of hyper-modernization, to situations of inertia and decadence that are truly worrying. The territory and society are shattered and do not correspond to the usual representations and cartographies of the rural/urban; coastal/inland; modern/traditional, etc.

The itineraries proposed by this research seek to unveil some of the faces of this polyhedron. It is not a question of a "sampling" that can be extrapolated to a "national whole" that does not exist, but to a sequence of significant occurrences that, more than their specificity, reveal fundamental dynamics that extend to the complexity of the national modernization process.