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'How does it feel to be a problem?': What we can learn about justice as political representation from empirical case studies

Research output: Working paperWorking paper and Preprints

Original languageEnglish
Pages1-32
DatePublished - 1 Jul 2018

Abstract

This report examines the relationship between political representation and experiences of (mis)recognition by reflecting on the results of six national case studies on the Roma. It inscribes itself within the ETHOS strand of research on justice as lived experience and builds on previous project deliverables on different conceptualisations of justice. More specifically it develops insights derived from critical race theory and tries to overcome the methodological nationalism that underlies the social sciences in general and the literature on political representation in particular. We are guided by two overarching questions: what are the obstacles to the political representation of individuals who identify with a minority? How are these obstacles linked to experiences of (mis)recognition?

Methodologically, we draw on a critical-theoretical approach that brings into dialogue the ideals and arguments put forward by political philosophers, state practices and the individual views of key informants. For the empirical part, national teams carried out desk research on Roma-related policies and discourses. The University of Bristol, in its capacity as WP5 co-coordinators then elaborated common guidelines for semi-structured interviews with stakeholders, which were conducted between November 2017 and March 2018. Each partner conducted between five and ten interviews including individuals identifying as Roma - some (but not all) of them activists -, non-Roma people who are active on their behalf and non-Roma professionals who engage with them. Country reports were brought together, systematically analysed and contrasted with a selection of philosophical writings addressing problems of minority political representation. This allowed us to identify links between different forms of representation and (mis)recognition as well as avenues for conceptual and theoretical development.

We find that in the current European context, Roma is a contested, multidimensional and highly stigmatised identity which simultaneously evokes material poverty, racialised phenotypes, and cultural practices. It is frequently shunned by those to whom it is ascribed. Since the 1990s, EU member states have been encouraged to reverse this trend in part by improving the political representation of their Roma citizens. The results have been ambiguous. On the one hand, in some national and municipal contexts, those who identify as Roma have the right to elect Roma representatives in local, regional and national governments, and Roma civil society leaders have had opportunities to influence policymaking through permanent and ad hoc consultative mechanisms. There have also been attempts to symbolically recognise Roma history, including their persecution, in official discourses. On the other hand, these measures do not seem to have translated into substantive representation, to the extent that Roma interests and perspectives continue to be widely overlooked by public authorities. This may partly be attributable to the scarcity of policymakers identifying as Roma, but the class bias of political institutions also plays a key role in the powerlessness of a materially deprived population. Alienation from state institutions, coupled with financial support from international and transnational ones, has triggered a proliferation of civil society organisations claiming to represent the Roma on a non-territorial basis. To the extent that they challenge the legitimacy of the powers attributed to territorial states, such claims break with the Westphalian or nationalist frame in which justice for cultural minorities has been envisaged up to now. In this way, they offer an opportunity to rethink political representation beyond the sedentarist assumptions which reproduce the misrecognition of mobile and racialised populations such as the Roma.

    Structured keywords

  • Migration Mobilities Bristol

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