This post is part of the series of blogs explaining country-specific research papers, investigating how minority claims for political justice are dealt with in Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal, Turkey, and the United Kingdom and how minorities experience it. Each of the case studies analyses one particular issue affecting recognition and representation of Roma relevant in its national context. Two cross-country studies, one highlighting the history of minorisation in the analysed countries, and a further one analysing the findings of the national case studies, complete the picture.
In order to contribute to ETHOS thinking about the relationship between institutionalised political justice and experienced recognition among cultural minorities in Europe the UK team engaged with a small number of Roma informants. The Roma are a marginalised population and we are extremely grateful to the Roma interviewees who are subject to so much investigation when what often rather needs investigating is the majority population. However, this raises issues that need to be met with more than gratitude. Considerable effort went into obtaining ethical approval for case study, yet the constraints of time, money and the project design meant that Roma individuals and associations were not able to be treated as full partners. This research process was extractive. It was not driven by an interest coming from Roma communities about the nature of justice and political representation. Academic researchers, like anyone else, not only have their own biases, but also their own intellectual and material interests. One ‘way out’ of this dilemma is often felt to be that one is ‘giving voice’ to people who are unheard. However, having concurred with some of the respondents that benevolence and speaking for Roma is a problem, and that representation is always and ever only partial we must also accept the implications for research that: “It is not a solution, the idea of the disenfranchised speaking for themselves, or the radical critics speaking for them; this question of representation, self-representation, representing others, is a problem” (Spivak 63).
We do not mean to suggest that research should only be done on the issues that communities themselves believe should be researched, and we also recognise that practical constraints facing academic work are very real, though we need to guard against taking these constraints for granted. But how do we take this critique seriously? We do not think it is enough to use everyday experiences to ‘feed’ theory, particularly when those everyday experiences are of domination, abuse and exploitation. Theory must speak back to these experiences, and theorists recognise that everyone deploys concepts and theoretical reasoning even if it is not labelled as such. Engaging with this and learning from it has the potential to be of considerable benefit to academic theorising and enable it to connect and engage with the world of policy and practice more directly. It also means engaging with people as subjects and agents of knowledge, not only ‘an object of knowledge’. Concretely, the UK team is proposing to move forward with this Deliverable by organising a workshop for participants in all UK case studies (Roma, young mothers, migrant domestic workers, trades unionists, educationalists, Grenfell Tower activists, and BAME activists) to discuss our findings and representation in theory and practice. Continuing the conversations initiated by the research, bringing together groups that do not come together in the course of their work, and discussing the relevance of theory to practice is a small next step in building justice together.
By Bridget Anderson
written for the ETHOS Project as Working Paper within D5.2
The full publication will be available soon at: https://ethos-europe.eu/publications