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Political representation and experienced recognition among Roma in the UK

Research output: Working paperWorking paper and Preprints

Original languageEnglish
DatePublished - 1 Jul 2018


This working paper aims to inform an ETHOS report on the relationship between institutionalised political justice and experienced recognition among minorities in Europe. Focusing on the Roma in the UK, it explores the relation between institutional and individual processes of ethnic identification, discursive construction and political representation, as well as their interaction with Gypsy, Traveller and migrant identities and policies. The report foregrounds the fluidity and context-sensitivity of Roma identities and teases out the reasons why different actors endorse or reject them. It asks which citizens engage in Roma politics, what they seek to achieve, and how they relate to institutional discourses and representative bodies.

Our analysis draws on relevant academic literature, national and regional policies adopted since the year 2000, a selection of prominent institutional discourses and semi-structured interviews with 11 key informants. The interviews took place between December 2017 and February 2018. Five of them involved Roma migrants of Romanian nationality, including two married couples, and four were conducted with professionals who had served or represented the Roma. One was a Romanian consultant woman, another two were Roma men engaged in civil society organisations dedicated to Roma integration, and the last was a political representative who had participated in a specialised consultative committee. Interviews lasted between 30 minutes and two hours and took place in respondents’ homes or workplaces. With the exception of one encounter where detailed notes were taken, they were audio recorded, transcribed, and thematically coded for systematic analysis.

Findings suggest that some Roma-specific policies are perceived as opening opportunities for countering negative stereotyping and promoting political participation whereas others raise fears of misrepresentation and misrecognition. Individual Roma generally did not object to being grouped together with Gypsies and Travellers but awareness of the stigma attached to these labels made them ambivalent toward their use in state monitoring and public policies. In terms of portrayal, they did not only reject hostile stereotypes of criminality and fecklessness but also benevolent ones of poverty and educational underachievement as well as some construals of their cultural traditions. Conversely, the discourse of anti-Roma discrimination generated a degree of consensus among respondents. The question of political participation was deemed significant to the extent that it contributed to addressing barriers to social mobility, but service providers and Roma migrants alike signalled dangers of tokenistic or self-interested representation. They also problematised the legitimacy of leaders who claimed to represent the Roma community as a whole without engaging with all its constituents, emphasising the diversity of national origins. In contrast, the political representative perceived the internal coherence of Roma demands, conveyed by a limited number of leaders, as a pre-requisite for effective dialogue. For Roma activists, the most immediate threat to representation was a lack of public funding which undermined civil society organisations’ capacity to mobilise Roma communities and take part in consultative mechanisms.

    Structured keywords

  • Migration Mobilities Bristol



  • Political representation and experienced recognition

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