Questioning mentalities of governance: a history of power relations among the Roma in Romania
Voiculescu, Cerasela Stefania
The thesis explains the socioeconomic differences among the Roma through a historical exploration of the relations established between Roma and significant Others at local, regional, and central levels in different, overlapping spheres of power (state, politics, religion, informal economy). Through a historical-ethnographic analysis of difference and power struggles, the thesis seeks to bring the political aspects of Roma lives back into the discourses of empowerment which are highly depoliticized by both the state and transnational neo-liberal governance (World Bank, UNDP, EU etc.). It is largely an explanation of transformations undergone by two Roma groups in Romania who experienced utterly different living conditions (while some got ’poorer’, the others became more affluent) in the period from socialism to post-socialism. The qualitative analysis, based on 7-months of ethnographic fieldwork, overcomes the flaws of policy-oriented research based primarily on statistics. The latter is produced by state and transnational development actors and ignores qualitative differences between Roma groups, the context of Romanian and Eastern European transformations (e.g. clientelism, informal economy, neopatrimonial state) and constitutes ’identities’ (’the poor’, ’the marginal’, ’the vulnerable’) through which the Roma are governed and maintained in a subordinate position. These symbolic categories are used as part of a larger neoliberal problematization of governance called ’social integration’, which constitutes itself as a ’regime of truth’ and follows an economic rationality which reproduces the status quo and does not necessarily empower the Roma. In addition, these ’regimes of enunciations’ are adopted un-reflexively as objects of study in social science and Romani studies. Distancing itself from these academic and policy practices, my comparative historical ethnography of power relations and discursive practices among the Roma challenges and brings a reconsideration of the current mentality of governance as social integration. Furthermore, my thesis constitutes an important contribution to Romani studies by 1) challenging a unilateral perspective directed by political agendas, and 2) producing reflexivity in relation to the object of study. It indicates that the historical study of power struggles as “an ascending analysis of power” (Foucault 1980: 99) is more beneficial in terms of empowerment than the study of predefined themes of governance (e.g. poverty and marginalization). The Roma continuously negotiate their relations with the Others in interaction with an uncertain socioeconomic environment, and these struggles constitute mechanisms of transformation in their lives. My thesis thus reveals different interactions Roma have had within and across spheres of power struggle (economy, state, politics, religion), which suggest an explanation for the two Roma groups’ different living conditions. A ‘mobile’ or a ‘sedentary’ interaction with the socialism-to-postsocialism socioeconomic transformations provided opportunities or restrictions for the improvement of the Roma’s material living conditions. While a ‘mobile’ and trans-local approach was adopted by Caldarars, a ‘sedentary’, localized socioeconomic practice was experienced as a restriction by the Romanianized Gypsies. Although these ‘patterns’ largely correspond to the groups studied, there was a variation in terms of mobility and wealth within both. Nevertheless, the mobile-sedentary distinction is relevant as it shows different ways of governance. While a trans-local mobile approach with low levels of subjection to state governance worked as a form of self-governance, a local ‘navigation’ of limited field of possibilities restricted access to better living conditions and increased the subjection to state governance. My thesis also draws attention to possible sources of empowerment (Roma politics) which are blocked by particular transformations of state and politics (patronage politics and political patronage), or translated by the state into the language of ‘social integration’ (e.g. Pentecostalism as self-governance). To sum up, I consider that my thesis undertakes a re-evaluation of the existent problematization of social integration and constitutes a reflexive knowledge base for the support of genuine forms of empowerment among the Roma.