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An iron fist in a velvet glove: neoliberal government of the migrant poor and other in Salt, Catalonia

Abstract

This article assesses the changes in local-level ‘immigrant policies’ and the ‘politics of culture’ in the small town Salt, Catalonia. Following a series of conflicts, the local administration implemented policies aimed at curbing the negative consequences of ‘the crisis’ and increasing diversification. The article shows how although these policies were in their essence a continuation of earlier trends, they constitute a double movement in the field of the management of the poor, racialised, urban populations, operating both in the social domain, with policies aimed at strengthening the ‘social cohesion’, and the repressive one, through policing and zero-tolerance policies aimed at calming discontent and unrest. Consequently, relying on data collected throughout a long-term fieldwork study, the article contributes to the literature on zero-tolerance policies with its critical approach to recent immigrant policies. It shows how we might be seeing a new social policy trend in which repressive measures are paired with ‘soft policies’, such as civil bylaws, which indirectly target the migrant population, and integration policies and charitable projects, which often favours group-focused attention rather than universal public service. This way, the local administration handles conflicts, product of the social inequalities, via the employment of apparently universal and non-discriminatory social policies which, however, end up affecting unequally.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See a further explanation later on.

  2. 2.

    Here, I understand social conflicts in a broad sense: subjectively between residents and taking place in either the public or the private space, and undefined when it comes to whether the dimensions are of a cultural, political and/or economic origin.

  3. 3.

    In 2008 alone, 1,772 people moved to Salt, of whom 771 were from the same region, 416 from the rest of the province, 321 from the rest of Catalonia and 264 from the rest of Spain. In the same year, 2,133 had emigrated (954, 456, 330 and 393, respectively).A total of 1,537 people came from abroad, 53 from the rest of the EU, 58 from the rest of Europe, 754 from Africa, 312 from America, 88 from Asia and a further 272 which are unclear (IDESCAT 2018).

  4. 4.

    All translations from Spanish and Catalan to English are the author’s.

  5. 5.

    ‘Jumping scale’ is a concept that conceives the process or strategy with which an actor tries to favour her position by means of a change of scale, in this case from the scale of the specific block to the scale of the neighbourhood.

  6. 6.

    See also Narotzky (2005).

  7. 7.

    Although see also Pasetti (2014).

  8. 8.

    A foundation established by one of Spain’s major banks (now known as Caixa Bank) that carries out or funds ‘social work’ as the social, philanthropic aspect of its activities. It is ironic that they call it ‘the soul’ of the bank.

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Acknowledgements

I would very much like to thank Mikel Aramburu Otazu for his comments on a previous version of this and the inhabitants of Salt for their time. Likewise, I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback and constructive critique.

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Correspondence to Martin Lundsteen.

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Lundsteen, M. An iron fist in a velvet glove: neoliberal government of the migrant poor and other in Salt, Catalonia. Dialect Anthropol 44, 1–17 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10624-019-09579-w

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Keywords

  • Catalonia
  • Neoliberal state
  • Immigrant policies
  • Convivencia conflicts
  • Economic crisis