The research project titled “HAMLETS. Immigration and sustainable development in small villages” was selected in the open call for proposals RecerCaixa2016, promoted by Obra Social ‘la Caixa’ and Association of Catalan Public Universities, ACUP. This is a project mainly carried out from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, UAB), with an interdisciplinary team (Department of Geography, ICTA, LIGIT) directed by Ricard Morén-Alegret. The project started in spring 2017 and the forecasted duration is until February 2020.
In English language, hamlet means ‘small village’ and, at the same time, Hamlet is the main character of an existential tragedy authored by William Shakespeare. In many parts of Europe, including some areas in Catalonia, sustainable development of small villages is under threat due to, among other factors, depopulation, while many migrants or unsettled people are looking for a new place to live. Ageing and depopulation make these (often rural) places more vulnerable to natural hazards (e.g. wildfires) or uncontrolled speculation/abandonment.
This project is born both from a scientific interest in knowing better the human geography and sustainability prospects in over a third of Catalonia’s territory where less than 2% of the Catalan population reside. This low population density is a huge challenge for the country’s governance. In Catalonia, there are 336 municipalities with fewer than 500 inhabitants (INE, 2016), this is roughly a third of the total number of municipalities there. Thus this project aims also to scientifically inform public policy-makers and to debate with them. In this sense, the project has also active support and participation from the Association of Small Villages in Catalonia (Associació de Micropobles de Catalunya), which gathers hundreds of local governments.
During the period 2017-2020, the main study area is the autonomous community of Catalonia (Spain). However, smaller comparative fieldworks will take place also in the Department of Eastern Pyrenees (France) as well as in the Republic of Ireland (Eire) and in Northern Ireland (UK).
This project is based on the hypothesis that (international and internal) immigrants have the potential to make social, economic, environmental and cultural contributions to the sustainable development of small rural municipalities in Catalonia. It is inspired by humanist geographies as well as political ecologies.
In brief, the main research objectives are the following:
1) To enhance knowledge of migrant pathways and settlement processes in Catalan hamlets (within the European context), analysing challenges for sustainability, as well as to study wellbeing and happiness in small villages, paying special attention to inter-cultural instances;
2) To carry out action-research with immigrants living in small villages who have already implemented sustainable development projects;
3) To gather data and design a tailored open-access GIS website in tune with policy-makers needs (named Geographical Information System for Active & Sustainable Hamlets, GISASH), which would also be useful for people willing to migrate to small villages.
The main research methods that are being used along the project are statistical, cartographical and documental work; semi-structured interviews with key informants and qualitative