Being “left-behind”? Updates on the EXIT project

Being “left-behind”?

The relevance of inequalities and their territorial dimension has become increasingly prominent in academic debate and political discourse. This issue gained particular attention after the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in 2016. It is in this context that, at the end of 2022, the project EXIT: Exploring sustainable strategies to counteract territorial inequalities from an intersectional approach, started funded by the Horizon Europe programme. This research problematizes socio-economic inequalities while exploring their manifestations, causes and implications in a territorial context.

The project, with seven universities and four civil society organizations from a total of eight countries across Europe as partners, is coordinated by the European Social Research Unit of the Department of Social Anthropology of the University of Barcelona, under the direction of professor Olga Jubany. From an eminently ethnographic approach, the research explores the territorial dimension of inequalities through qualitative, quantitative and action research, using an interdisciplinary and multi-situated approach with the active participation of local communities.

In the first stage of research, EXIT has deepened the discourses around the Anglo-Saxon concept “left-behind” – which would be applied in reference to spaces ‘left behind’ or ‘abandoned’ – and its relationship with other concepts used in state and local contexts, public policies and political discourses. With these foundations, a cartography of the multiple definitions of territorial inequalities has been generated in eight national contexts, generating results that contribute to the re-evaluation of the conceptual framework of territorial inequality and establish the foundations for the rest of the research.

From this critical approach, the research has generated guidelines on the uses and practices of the “left-behind” concept aimed at online content creators, media, policy makers and neighborhood communities, among others. These guidelines also aim to guide interested parties in how to avoid overexposure and victimization of specific places and communities, in addition to generating interest in the debate on territorial inequalities, offering tools to frame the mentioned concept more precisely (available on the project website). With these first results, it aims at the same time to stimulate the parties interested in the term “left-behind” beyond the Anglo-Saxon context, exploring its eventual applications at state level and deconstructing the stereotypes and perceptions that can divert attention from the real challenges they face the areas thus considered.

Currently, the EXIT project is about to start fieldwork in 17 case studies that have been selected during the first phase of the investigation. Through this ethnographic research, it aims to critically explore the multifaceted nature of inequalities and their territorial dimension, examining how they are perceived, experienced and dealt with by different social actors.