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Roma Identity as an Expert-Political Construction

[journal article]

Surdu, Mihai; Kovats, Martin

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Abstract The creation of an EU Framework for national Roma integration strategies (2011) marks a significant step in the politicisation of Roma identity by ensuring a further increase in the number of initiatives, projects and programmes explicitly targeting Roma. The Framework itself is part of a process that began with postcommunist transition and which has produced historically unprecedented levels of Roma political activism along with a proliferation of national and transnational policy initiatives focussed on Roma identity. In seeking to explain this contemporary political phenomenon, the article argues that Roma is an identity constructed at the intersection of political and expert knowledge by various actors, such as policymakers, Romani activists, international organizations and scholars. This political-expert identity is applied to groups that are not bounded by a common language, religion, cultural practice, geographic location, occupation, physical appearance or lifestyle. The article explores how this collation of disparate populations into a notional political community builds upon a centuries-old Gypsy legacy. It scrutinizes five strands of identification practices that have contributed to the longue durée development of today’s Roma as an epistemic object and policy target: police profiling of particular communities; administrative surveys; Romani activism; Roma targeted policies; quantitative scientific research. The article argues that the contemporary economic and political conditions amidst which the politicisation of Roma identity is occurring explain how the ideological and institutional construction of the ethnic frame tends toward the reinforcement of the exclusion of those categorised as Roma, thus increasing the perceived need for Roma policy initiatives. A self-sustaining cycle has been created where Roma knowledge identifies Roma problems requiring a policy response, which produces more Roma knowledge, more needs and more policy responses. Yet, there are consequences to racialising public discourse by presenting Roma as both problematic and essentially different from everyone else. Hostility towards Roma has increased in many states indicating that the expert framing of Roma groupness affects social solidarity by disconnecting and distancing Roma from their fellow citizens.
Keywords gipsy; integration; integration policy; European integration; cultural identity; ethnicity; political identity; identification; discrimination; ethnic group; minority; political participation
Classification Ethnology, Cultural Anthropology, Ethnosociology; European Politics
Document language English
Publication Year 2015
Page/Pages p. 5-18
Journal Social Inclusion, 3 (2015) 5
Issue topic Talking about Roma: Implications for Social Inclusion
ISSN 2183-2803
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution