Leaving Spain

A Biographical Study of an Economic Crisis and New Beginnings

Mê-Linh Riemann

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Life histories and experiences of Spanish migrants

Since the beginning of the economic crisis of 2008, Spain, like other southern European countries, has witnessed a mass departure of mostly young people looking for opportunities abroad. Leaving Spain is based on 58 autobiographical narrative interviews with recent Spanish migrants who went to the UK and Germany, and sometimes returned. By presenting a combination of in-depth case studies and comparative analyses, the author demonstrates the potential of biographical research and narrative analysis in studying contemporary Europe, including its overlapping crises. The scope of the sociological study is not limited to examining how those who left Spain experienced single phases of their migration. Instead, it focuses on the significance of migration projects in the context of their life histories and how they make sense of these experiences in retrospect.

This book will not only be of great interest to social scientists and students in different disciplines and interdisciplinary studies such as sociology, anthropology, human geography, European studies, education, and social work, but also to professionals, European and national policy makers, and those interested in learning more about migrants’ experiences, perspectives, and (often invisible) contributions.

Ebook available in Open Access.
This publication is GPRC-labeled (Guaranteed Peer-Reviewed Content).

"I hope this book will give readers unique and novel insights into the south-north movement in the context of the economic crisis, and how it evolved over the course of the past decade."
Read a Q&A with Mê-Linh Riemann


1. Introduction

2. Mapping the Field

Phases of EU mobility: a timeline

Zooming in on the Spanish case

Taking on a biographical perspective

3. Biographical Case Studies

Adam Sanchez

María Navarro

Mateo López

Where to go from here?

4. Time to go?

‘Going abroad’ in the context of one’s academic training

Withstanding a collective mood of demoralisation

Trying to overcome a prolonged period of dependency and stagnation

Trying to cope with or escape from a trajectory of suffering

In search of professional recognition and adequate pay

Acquiring foreign language skills in order to gain a competitive advantage

5. On Studying and Working Abroad

Exchange programmes as pathways into a long-term stay

Alternatives to wage labour

‘Unskilled’ labour?

Skilled labour

Voluntary work

6. A Web of Social Relationships

On working to maintain personal ties to Spain

The emergence of new social relationships in the receiving society

Spaces of transition

Perceived barriers in everyday interactions

7. Established-Outsider Relations in Times of Brexit

The case of Diego

Looking beyond the single case

A note on the recent political developments

8. An Uneasy Homecoming

Returning as an answer to what?

Moving ‘back’: expectations vs. reality

9. Conclusion

A brief overview of my findings

Addressing different audiences

Looking back and looking ahead

10. Methodological Appendix

A note on biographical research

The autobiographical narrative interview and procedures of sequential analysis

The history of my field research

Data overview

Consent form




Format: Monograph - paperback

Size: 234 × 156 × 12 mm

320 pages

ISBN: 9789462703285

Publication: April 07, 2022

Languages: English

Stock item number: 147732

Mê-Linh Riemann is a post-doctoral researcher at the Centre for Sociological Research at KU Leuven. She previously completed her PhD at the University of Cambridge.

This is a lovely book, full of very rich stories. I particularly appreciate that the specific research questions guiding the main empirical chapters emerged out of three biographical case studies. In other words, people’s lives come first and analysis follows. It is a novel way of exploring how the macro takes shape in the micro. - Karen O’Reilly, Loughborough University

Leaving Spain fills in a huge blank in the knowledge we have of the phenomenon under study and is very valuable for the originality of its research project's design as well as for the rigor of its analyses. The case studies are wonderfully human, the analysis is mostly formulated in accessible language, the writing is clear and convincing.
Daniel Bertaux

In a debated field such as migration, the work of Mê-Linh Riemann is very important in showing which conditions can actually lead to the migration of young middle-class educated people, the conditions they find upon arrival, how they find work, learn the local language, associate with others, eventually decide to return or continue on abroad. I would definitely use this text in my courses on biographical research, migration studies, and qualitative-interpretive methods, for undergraduate, graduate and PhD students.
Lena Inowlocki, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main