Portraits of the Portuguese Territory

Portugal faces serious barriers to territorial development and cohesion, based on strong identifiable and known asymmetries. Recent national and European policies invest in the valorization of regional identity, widely perceived as the way to create new dynamics in a framework of sustainability and the citizens' quality of life.

This focus on regional specificity is translated in its cultural and architectonic patrimony, in the environmental and natural value, and should also consider its hybrid characteristics, whether urban centres, industrial or rural territories, or, as it happens with most of the territory, the networks that traverse it. This mission of regional progress meets, nonetheless, persistent operative challenges whose identification is important as they constrain an effective intervention and an effective use of European support and investment programmes available to Portugal. This is the context that originates the elaboration of this briefing dossier that simply intends to be part of a collective contribution and of a positive dynamic to highlight viabilities of cooperation and active involvement of scholars, local authorities, specialist partners and this country's young talents in the approach of the opportunities regions contain.


Project management: Serra Henriques Foundation

Scientific coordination: Álvaro Domingues [University of Porto]

From the work of geographer Orlando Ribeiro, a masterpiece is identifiable - Portugal, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic - which notably expresses the reasons for the country's strong asymmetry, despite its small size. This asymmetry relates to a long chronological history and an even longer chronology of biophysical processes, from climate to geomorphology. Other more recent authors, geographers as João Ferrão, speak of the archipelagos-country. Boaventura Sousa Santos uses the term 'semi-periphery' to, in the middle of a globalization process, characterize Portugal's contradictions and contrasts in view of the world's multi-polarity. We could keep on quoting more authors and reference works. We would always arrive at similar conclusions about the Portuguese society/territory, among other:

  • an extremely diversified mosaic of socio-territorial formations;
  • an asymmetrical evolution of that asymmetry, according to the observed historical contexts (post-war immigration, industrialization, de-ruralization, urbanization, etc.);
  • a persistence of the symptoms of rural pre-modernity due to conservationism and the enclosure of the Estado Novo dictatorship in a period of fast modernization, namely in Europe;
  • a macrocephaly that persists and relates to centuries (since the birth of the nation) of power centralization and the strong influence of the State;
  • a strong dependence of international circumstances due to the fragility and double dependency of the national economy (heavily importing and exporting, at the same time).

In a time in which social dynamics are so swift, chaotic and unstable due to the opacity of the deepening of globalization, Portugal mixes it all, from hyper-modernization of socio-territorial contexts, to truly worrisome situations of lethargy and decadence. Territory and society are shattered and do not correspond to the usual representations and cartography of rural/urban; coastline/inland; modern/traditional, etc.

The itineraries this investigation proposes seek to shed some light over some of the faces of this polyhedron. It isn't about a 'sample' from which you can extrapolate to a 'nation-wide whole' that doesn't exist; it's about a sequence of significant events that, more than its specificity, reveal background dynamics that extend to the complexity of the process of national modernization.