Work on screen: a study of social memories and identities through cinema

Principal researcher: Frédéric Vidal

External principal researcher: Luísa Veloso (CIES-IUL)

Research group: Practices and Politics of Culture


Work identities | Industrial films | Narratives | Social memory

Funding Institution

Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT)





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Work in contemporary societies has come to suffer several processes of change that in the context of the current economic and employment crisis (Veloso and Oliveira 2010), demands equating the structuring of identities that is built, destroyed and modified around work. Work continues to play an essential role both in the stability and in the appropriation of meaning in individual and social group trajectories (Veloso 2009) and in the social recognition mechanisms (Honneth 2005). Consequently, an examination of representations of work is a theme of great scientific and social importance. This research project seeks to analyse the social processes in the formation of work identities in Portugal and to recreate the resulting narratives that shape it. The project takes social representation as its theoretical-methodological basis (Moscovici 2000). Based on an analysis of a body of industrial films, which will allow us to highlight the main continuities and discontinuities of these narratives between the end of the 1920s and the 1980s, the project will follow a theoretically and methodologically innovative path. Taking work as its central focus, it will review the research already carried on social identities, work memories and identities and the relationship between technique and work(Veloso 2009; Marques 2011; Vidal 2006), to highlight the role of social memory in the construction of identities. The collective/social memory (Halbwachs 1994) is the central axis of the project, since it is this that will allow us to demonstrate, at both the individual and collective level, the social processes in the construction of work representation. While previous research has favoured the ethnographic method (Marques 2011), the intensive observation of work contexts (Veloso 2009) or archival analysis (Vidal 2006), this project proposes taking cinema as its starting point - and more particularly, industrial documentaries that were made in Portugal for both private and public bodies. Cinema is a privileged vehicle for the creation and divulgation of representation and, therefore, in the shaping of the collective memory. Being ordered, these industrial films, which were often set in a factory, a region or in a sector of economic activity, have explicit goals to promote a particular image of work and, therefore, of specific social representations. Having this goal, they constitute a privileged channel in the construction of particular narratives about work, contributing to the formation of identities, and even the image of the country. In Portugal, these films were among the principal forms of cinematographic output on labour during the 20th century. The research will concern itself with cinematographic output during the period in question, noting some of the important transformations in Portuguese life during the dictatorship, the transition to democracy and membership of the EEC. To achieve its stated goals, the project will be divided into three phases considered the phases of the construction of narrative on work: a) an analysis of the historical context of film production; b) a content analysis of the films; c) the analysis of the production of social memories and of narratives through the films, with ethnographic work in the locations in which the films were shot or referring to. The aim is to follow a logic of analysis of the continuities and discontinuities of the work setting. With a consolidated body work in the field of professional identities, the professions and the labour market, the lead researcher will coordinate a team of scholars with different, yet complementary, research backgrounds. This team will include specialists in anthropology (E Marques), which will be essential to the task of analysing the social memories of work and for ethnographic field work in co-ordination with the lead researcher; in history (F Vidal), who will be responsible for examining the historical context of the films; and content analysts and formal film strategy analysts (J Lemière and J S Cardoso). The team will be advised by an expert of the image (J Ribalta) and by a work historian (N Hatzfeld). This project will be an innovative study in Portugal, and will make decisive contributions in the advance of multidisciplinary research on the construction of memory work narratives in Portugal, assuming a diachronic perspective; the advance in knowledge based in the transformation of work through its representations; in the fundamental knowledge about the relationship between social representations of work in the cinema and the constitution and transformation of work identities. The project will also create an analysis grid for this type of source that can be used by the scientific community.


Full members

Ana Luísa Micaelo

Governance, Policies and Livelihoods

Full members

Emília Margarida Marques

Governance, Policies and Livelihoods