Making sense of young people’s negotiation of tourism landscapes in Goa and Lisbon


Sinead D’Silva, Research Fellow at Instituto de Ciências Sociais – Universidade de Lisboa (ICS-ULisboa)

In this blog post, I want to spend some time talking about the motivation behind my research, exemplified through the active form of resistance and sense of place-making by young people in Goa as they make sense of their futures by confronting their present and past.

First, I will provide an overview of the project, followed by some primary observations and an example of why I feel it is crucial to not forget that even in situations of seeming complacency or even existence for sustenance, resistance may eventually emerge. Finally I will explain the expected direction for the research to proceed. Here, the young person is located within the research as considerations are made regarding ‘futures’.

A brief introduction

Along the western coast of India lies the small state of Goa, popular across the world for its beaches and seafood. In reality, the state comprises not just of the coastal zone, but is a biodiversity-rich region too. Nevertheless, the most popular image one can find is that of the beaches with some shacks along it. Here, real estate has sky-rocketed and rules relating to building permission are flouted more than has been reported. Corruption runs amuck as the ruling elite of India are said to invest in buying large plots of land for sums neither a multi-generational Goa local nor working-class migrant could ever afford. A little further North West on the globe sits Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, the western-most country of Europe. Beautiful skylines, culinary experiences and the river are what are sold as its prime imagery. Echoing Goa, the imagery of which is referred to related to that which is on sale for the purpose of tourism. Beneath these glorious, tempting images sits a contested lived reality of conflict relating to land and identity on one hand and economic relief or gains on the other. Here too, real estate and touristifcation has rendered the local and working-class migrants unable to live close to the commercial heart of the city. This is of course without adding to the mix the geopolitical context or other social stratification dynamics.

The project ‘Youth negotiation of tourism-based employment in Goa and Lisbon’ is one in which this contradiction of acceptance and simultaneous rejection of the tourism industry is explored through the narratives and lived experiences of young people participating in both or either of work in tourism and/or resistance against tourism. However, as the project has progressed, the focus has spread broader away from just tourism, to other industries that severely impact on or are influenced by tourism.

The context within which this project is framed is best quoted from the official project objective:

This research focuses on how within two contexts –in the Global North in Lisbon, and in the Global South in Goa – young people negotiate landscapes of touristification and neoliberalisation that relate to their futures. Exponential urban redevelopment, climate change and heightened capitalism manifest in both places through changes made to accommodate an economy focused on tourism-boosting. Austerity in Portugal, and a boost to tourism-centred jobs in Goa has resulted in young people leaving in search of jobs elsewhere. However, a large portion continue to stay back in these geographies and are employed by the tourism industry which paradoxically gentrifies them.

Another way to understand paradoxes is to observe it through its extreme ends of contradictions. To this end, the four pictures in this post reveal exactly this.

What’s the problem?

This research is qualitative – it is an ethnography in as far as this is possible from a distance and within a situation where a pandemic rages on across the world. As I write this, young Goans continue to push an environmental campaign #MyMollem/ #AmchiMollem against a proposed massive infrastructural development project through the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park, which they have done since late May – possibly the biggest movement Goa has seen in recent history. Some of the young people participating in my research find themselves involved in such movements – though only in part or passing. It is important to note that the environmental degradation of infrastructural development projects amidst a pandemic are forcing people to confront the precarious nature of the tourism industry and reliance on the same. Though there is also some irony that the argument against such development is by defending tourism. There is surely a double-edged sword here and something the project will observe.

Meanwhile, in Lisbon, a non-politically aligned movement, launched by those form the food and beverage and hospitality sector, albeit by older, more established people in the industry. They are angry about the response of the government to stifle their potential economic gain. As I speak to young people, I find out that some have decided to leave the tourism industry in light of the pandemic. Many of these being self-employed (the difference here is that there still remains some semblance of a choice – though not the best one – meanwhile in Goa with a heavily funnelled economy the reality is less flexible). Once again, those participating in my study are all able to reflect on the harm the industry causes. Although they admit to benefitting from it, their rationale for taking up the job is generally reflective of the poor labour conditions relating to wages and standard of living especially in the city centre. Indeed, young people have moved from their initial dreams to this more lucrative industry which is precarious yet ironically renders them less marginal as they attempt to live in the city.

Finding the young person

This research uses the descriptor of ‘young person’ and includes those aged between 18 and 35 – though the boundaries upwards are somewhat relaxed. Precarity characterises the employment landscape for young people. Those who do not wish to have the ever-dwindling standard jobs potentially seek alternatives that fall into the remit of tourism or they may find themselves in such roles for lack of other opportunities. Sometimes, this is encouraged through the discourse of ‘entrepreneurship’, something well known to Portugal following the 2008 financial crisis which hit the country the worst.

There is another dimension worth considering. Although some suggest that precarity was always present in the landscape of work – such as daily wage earners or sex workers who exist liminally – the extent to which this has become commonplace is no doubt going to have an impact on the way society is structured, transformed and (re)produced. It is here – this everydayness, placing more and more young people in conditions wherein they struggle to live, to make their way through the world – that we attempt to make sense of the landscape of youth employment and their sense of place. The ‘we’ here is both the participants and myself, as the project encourages thinking and reflecting openly on all possibilities while not committing to what was said the previous time. It is further exacerbated by the situation of the pandemic. Herein lies the aspect of ‘negotiation’, as the study therefore takes on a quasi-longitudinal nature.

Finally, the project also takes the form of a critique by considering the potential resistance young people may participate in or express towards this very industry. It reveals the paradoxical functioning and experience of the tourism industry.

Sinead D’Silva is Research Fellow at Instituto de Ciências Sociais – Universidade de Lisboa (ICS-ULisboa). Their current research titled Youth negotiation of tourism-based employment in Goa and Lisbon focuses on young people’s futures and sense of place while employed in the contentious industry of tourism in their respective local contexts. It is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Sinead’s PhD at the University of Leeds (2019) focused on young people’s decision-making as they transitioned from STEM degrees to their graduate lives. Overall, their academic research relates to work in society, youth futures and sense of place, alongside critical approaches to social stratification and spatialised inequality.

Como citar este artigo: D’Silva, Sinead (2021). Making sense of young people’s negotiation of tourism landscapes in Goa and Lisbon. Life Research Group Blog, ICS-Lisboa, 21 de janeiro (Acedido a xx/xx/xx)