CE22 - Mobilité et systèmes urbains durables

Islands, Territories and Family Organisation – ATOLLS

Islands, Territories and Family Organization -ATOLLs

The objective of the project is to analyze the structure of migration in French Polynesia based on the territorial organization of families. The aim is to evaluate the sustainability of the system supported by the public policies implemented as well as by family solidarity. This organization is characterized by an ultra-peripheral island context and urban macrocephaly. The study of the location of public services and transport is also fundamental in this project.

The workings of distant family relationships and territorial organization: public services continuity to the test of insularity

In this archipelagic territory, our objective is to assess the role of the implantation of public services (education, health, transport), of economic development zones and more generally of the territorial organization supported by all policies on population settlement. On the other hand, by examining the organization of families and the trajectories of the individuals who compose them, we wish to identify the mechanisms at the origin of mobility or, on the contrary, of the immobility of populations on Polynesian territory.<br />French Polynesia is seen here as a reticular population system where intermediate spaces do not exist. It is an open space where the family network transcends the distances. French Polynesia migratory balance remains in deficit with an intense polarization in the local “metro-pole”: 70% of the population of Polynesia lives on the island of Tahiti alone. The 2017 census shows that 75% of the population lives in the Windward Islands and 60% in the agglomeration of Papeete in Tahiti, where the very active port hub of Papeete is located (1,500 inhabitants per km2 against 66 inhabitants per km2 for the whole of Polynesia). The territory is populated by a young population, in 2017 ten people of working age for a retiree, and three for a dependent (which are made up of people under 15 and over 65). In fact, although the dependency of seniors is low overall, parental burden remains high even though the fertility rate has fallen from 5 children per woman to less than 2 in 40 years.<br />In this overseas collectivity (COM), the question of the continuity of the State and its services with its objective of territorial equity for the populations arises in a singular way. The school and health systems are designed concentrically around the main island of Tahiti (even in connection with mainland France- understood here as the capital vis-à-vis its former colonies).

In order to analyse mobility, intergenerational solidarity and the organization of public services, the creation of databases is essential. Many administrative sources are used (mainly concerning public services), and the quantitative analyses of family functioning are based on census data, surveys of the Ministry of National Education, etc. but also in an innovative way, on the first Family survey collected in 2019 in collaboration with ISPF. A qualitative approach focusing on family strategies and their motivations both in Polynesia and with students and workers outside of Polynesia is also conducted.
To take the example of school infrastructure: the elementary school system has 176 schools, then two-third of the colleges and all the high schools are located in the Society archipelago and most of them on the island of Tahiti. The continuation of schooling, even compulsory, exacerbates the problems encountered in the rural areas (assignment of qualified personnel, closure of classes). This organization of the education system is not; however, the only key to structure space and influence the flows of individuals on the territory.
The organization of the health system structured around health posts, first aid stations, infirmaries, clinics, dispensaries and a hospital has the same characteristics. Dealing with specifically distance related logistics, such as dealing with emergencies is made extremely difficult. If this system is supplemented by a medical transportation facilities, the treatment of chronic diseases or heavy and repeated treatments requires the displacement of patients in hostels or in families in Tahiti for hospital treatment in Papeete or even as far as in the Paris region for more specialized treatments.
The analyses are therefore carried out in order to ensure consistency between these multiform data concerning services and those concerning individuals and families, both quantitative and qualitative.

The initial meeting marking the start of the project took place on January 18, 2019. This first year was devoted to initiating the collaborative dynamic of the team who met regularly and continued or started the work of analysing the data sources available.
At the start of the ANR project, the tests and programming of the “Family, Housing and Remote Family Relations” pilot survey (Feti’i e fenua), the qualitative and preparatory fields were already advanced; joint funding from the government of French Polynesia and the State secured. On the other hand, the gathering of data and the use of secondary sources (censuses of the population of French Polynesia 1983-2017) had already produced two ISPF publications. From October to December 2019 (1st wave) and from February to March 2020 (2nd wave interrupted by the covid-19 epidemic) the collection of the Feti’i e fenua survey among 5,141 inhabitants of French Polynesia was completed.
In addition, thanks to the collaborative dynamic of exchanges and the expertise of the ANR team members on the issue of education, a survey project among the 4,000 students enrolled in 3rd grade in French Polynesia (in education public and private) was quickly put in place with the Directorate General of Education and ISPF: The College and Me survey. Collection was carried out in all colleges in French Polynesia in May 2019 (response rate 86%). It is currently being analysed: a first return to the schools was made in November 2019, an ISPF publication as well as a Research Note are to be published.
Concerning the constitution of databases: in addition to the homogenization of census data from 1983 to 2017, the team worked on the creation of a geo-localised database integrating the different types of healthcare offers for the whole of French Polynesia over the period 2011-2019 and a cartographic database for all the islands and municipalities of French Polynesia as well as a third integrated database on transport networks (sea, road, air).

Since the 1rst of October 2020, the team welcomes two additional researchers on postdoctoral contracts and one doctoral student who will all contribute to the enhancing the team’s capacity to analyse the various databases and surveys now available.

SIERRA-PAYCHA Celio, TRABUT Loïc, LELIEVRE Eva, 2018, « Le fa’a’amura’a : Confier et recevoir un enfant en Polynésie française », Points forts de la Polynésie française, ISPF, 1, 12p
SIERRA-PAYCHA Celio, LESAGE Alexandre, 2019, « Les mobilités résidentielles », Points forts de la Polynésie française, ISPF, 4, 10p.
CHAGNE Annick, ESCOUFLAIRE Alexandre, PASQUIER Julie, 2019, « Les logements en 2017 », Point Etudes et Bilan de la Polynésie française, ISPF, 4p.
Communication à colloque international
SIERRA-PAYCHA Celio, TRABUT Loïc, LELIEVRE Eva, 2019, “Islands and Family: the making of a Family survey in a Small Island State”, The Australian sociological association conference, Sydney, novembre 2019
Organisation d’une séance au Colloque international du CIST (16-17nov 2020) :
« le temps l’île. Les territoires insulaires au prisme des multiples temporalités » - 2 sessions

The aim of this proposal is to analyse the sustainability of territorial organization in French Polynesia by focusing on migration, family structure and policy. By exploring the modes of organization of families, their geographical roots, and the individual mobility trajectories of their members, we aim to identify the mechanisms underpinning the mobility – or immobility – of the populations of French Polynesia. On a territory of multiple islands forming an extensive archipelago, we intend to assess how settlement dynamics are influenced by the location of public services (education, health, transport) and of economic development zones, and more generally by the modes of territorial organization fostered by public policy. The geographical position of French Polynesia with respect to other potential destinations – notably for education and healthcare – such as mainland France, New Caledonia, Asia, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, etc., will also be taken into account.
This Oceanian territory is seen here as a network system of settlements with no intermediate land. It is an open space in which the family support network is not bounded by the shores of individual islands. It is a territory of increasing negative net migration, with intense polarization in the local "métro-pôle" (the island of Tahiti and the capital Papeete) served by shipping and air transport hubs. But also a territory of 118 islands grouped into 5 archipelagos scattered over an area as large as Europe in which the most outlying islands are more than 2000 km apart.
The concentration of economic development and public services in the capital explains the densification of the urban zone of Papeete over the last 50 years. This densification has led to a major housing crisis, compounded by an economic crisis that may explain the observed return flows towards the outer islands. The role and stability of public services (education, health, transport) subject to the requirement of territorial continuity must exhibit considerable resilience in a society where almost one in two people has moved home in the space of five years.
This project offers a unique opportunity to analyse the sustainability of territorial systems from three different angles: place and territory; family and bonds; individuals and their trajectories. Our analyses – both quantitative and qualitative – will explore modes of family organization, public measures and individual characteristics which enable inhabitants to transcend their insularity. In other words, a multi-scalar approach will be applied to shed light on the potential tensions between access to services, family solidarity, territorial roots and, more generally, the continuing presence of populations over such a widely scattered territory
Deploying a multidisciplinary team (geographers, demographers, sociologist, statisticians and political scientists), our project is based on two partnerships with the UMR SAGE of Strasbourg university and the UMR IDEES the University of Rouen; and backed by new collaborative agreements with the Institut Statistique de la Polynésie Française (ISPF) which is contributing to the project via data collection operations which are already scheduled and funded (2018 labour force survey, survey on family, housing and long-distance relationships in 2019).
This project, highly original in many respects, combines the collection and analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data. It reflects the renewed interest in questions relating to the family and aims to perform unprecedented quantitative research on a territory which has so far received little attention. More generally, it will provide an opportunity to revisit research into the sustainability of territories on the basis of a geographical archetype.

Project coordination

Eva LELIÈVRE (Parcours et territoires des populations)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


ITAC Parcours et territoires des populations
SAGE Sociétés, acteurs, gouvernement en Europe (UMR 7363)
ISPF Institut de la statistique de la Polynésie Française
CRIDUP Centre de recherche de l’institut de démographie de l’Université Paris 1

Help of the ANR 442,908 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2018 - 48 Months

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