On July 6, 7 and 8, I'm giving three guest seminars at the Central European University in Budapest as part of the summer course on "Multi-disciplinary Approaches to Romany Studies - a Model for Europe". Below are the abstracts for the three sessions.
July 6, 2009: Marginality, Advocacy, and the Ambiguities of Multiculturalism: Notes on Romani Activism in Central Europe.
Activists who take up the cause of marginalized and discriminated cultural groups often find themselves in an ambiguous position in relation to the very people whose interests they seek to represent. Inspired by the ideas of multiculturalism, minority advocates turn the cultural identity of marginalized and discriminated minorities into the central focus of a political struggle for recognition. By so doing, however, they tend to construct a particular sectional minority identity that not only fails to give full expression to individual identities, but is usually also “stigmatized” in the sense that it is popularly associated with stereotypical images and negative characteristics. In this session focus is on this ambiguity in contemporary projects of minority rights advocacy aimed at redressing the social and economic grievances of the Roma in Central Europe. We will explore how activists in the articulation of their claims rely on essentialist assumptions of Romani identity. While these minority rights claims resonate well in international forums, they also run the risk of reifying cultural boundaries, stimulating thinking in ethnic collectives, reinforcing stereotypes, and hampering collective action. By reviewing some of the recent literature on multiculturalism in social and political theory, we will also examine ways of dealing with this ambiguity. Can minority advocacy for the Roma avoid the tacit reproduction of essential identities by contesting the essentializing categorization schemes that lie at the heart of categorized oppression and by foregrounding the structural inequality that drives political mobilization?
July 7, 2009: Romani Mobilization and the Role of Frames
Students of social movement have frequently focused their research on 'framing processes'. These are the actions of movement actors to disseminate their understanding of social reality among a wider audience with the purpose of appealing to and mobilizing a constituency. The concept of framing provides a useful contribution to the study of ethnic minority mobilization since it directs attention to cognition and persuasion. According to the framing approach, the boundaries of an ethnic minority identity are continuously reconstituted in the light of the present (political and institutional) circumstances, even in cases where there are seemingly ‘objective’ historical and cultural foundations of this identity. Thus, an ethnic minority is not simply a group of people that differs from the rest of society in terms of language, tradition and so forth, but rather the result of a process in which such differences are made socially and politically meaningful and are acted upon. By employing the concept of framing to the subject area of ethnic mobilization, an opportunity is created to examine the element of choice in the construction of an ethnic identity (the use of intentional frames) as well as the element of designation (the presence of countermobilizing frames or the (in)ability of a particular frame to resonate in a given context).
July 8, 2009: Romani Mobilization and International Opportunity Structures
Students of social movements and scholars in international politics have increasingly been interested in the study of 'international political opportunity structures'. In this session we will discuss the value and the constraints of a research perspective that focuses on political opportunity structures in the study of Romani politics. In the context of internationalizing norms for ethnic minority protection the treatment of the Roma became to some extent an element in the construction of a country’s international reputation. From the perspective of a political opportunity approach one would expect national Romani movement actors in certain countries to have welcomed the critical interference of both international governmental organizations and international NGOs in domestic affairs. But have Romani activists indeed experienced IGOs and international NGOs as their allies? Has this new international context indeed provided new opportunities? Has this international involvement been conducive to the formation of a Romani movement in Central Europe? Have processes of Europeanization in this particular region really increased institutional access points for Romani activists?