Processes of subjectification and their effects on racializing Roma [Enikő Vincze]

The article is based on the paper Cultural identity politics, social policies and racialization processes regarding Roma, which was prepared and presented by Enikő Vincze at the workshop “Race in/outside post-WWII Europe: On the Politics of Governing and Knowledge Production” (organized by the CEU Institute for Advanced Study and Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Budapest, June 10, 2014). It is relying on the results of the SPAREX research, in particular on the analysis of Roma politics and policies for Roma.

The paper discusses about the politics of culture, rights, social inclusion and development as processes of subjectification, and about how they are (ab)used in the process of racialization of the Roma. It briefly describes attempts of Romani nation- and minority-building, demands for universal human rights for Roma, “Europeanization” of Roma by inclusion policies, and the production of under-development, but as well as how the resulting subject positions for Roma are interpreted in a racist frame as ‘The inferior’ nation”, ‘The different’ minority, ‘The Other’ European citizen, ‘The vulnerable group’ and the ‘East-European sub-human’. The analysis views all these developments as dynamics that create subject positions for Roma in the broader power structure of capitalism within which they operate. Eventually the paper addresses what is the role of anti-Roma racism in the current neoliberalization processes and how is anti-Roma racism related to “The Roma poverty” and “Roma cultural inferiority” discourse. Last, but not least, the paper suggests the need for a new politics of empowerment that could act as transformative subjectification, which would enable one to act from a subject position created for him/her by the economic and cultural system in a way that changes the system itself from the local, through the national to the European level.

The text is under revision, prepared for publication in a journal. Its main ideas and conclusions are presented in a synthetic table available here  Roma_subjectification_table_EV_june2014(2)

Introduction – Politics and policies as processes of subjectification    

This paper addresses Roma politics and policies for Roma as processes of subjectification (Foucault 1982). Subjectification is the dynamics by which a subject, in our case ‘The Roma’, is created by power mechanism acting upon the acts of another, which sorts out an effect in the other that shapes its own aspirations (Allen 2008). Subjectification operates through discourses and institutions that are creating advantages for some, while causing disadvantages for others. Observing this form of governmentality (Foucault 1991, van Baar 2011) that creates the subject who, at its turn, defines its own aspirations and acts from this very position, one may witness the emergence of multiple definitions of “the Roma” proposed by elites that wish to repair the injustices to which ethnic Roma individuals and groups are subjected to. They are contesting unequal power relations of subordination, while themselves being products of the broader political-ideological frames of their times. These definitions emphasize different elements presumably shared by a variety of groups and individuals: some envision Roma unity around Romanipen, the cultural value and norm system that governs (or should govern) Roma life style wherever they live; others build the sense of belonging on shared experiences of discrimination and human rights violations (including the multi-secular history of exploitation manifested in slavery, Holocaust, forced relocations, assimilation); but there are also approaches that associate Roma with a set of social problems (such as poverty and social exclusion) understood at their turn in various ways, while others, in a similar economicist vein, aim at conceiving Roma as source of development. Viewed in the context of changing political economies, one should notice that these processes of Roma subjectification are pieces of what was happening under the conditions of state capitalism informed by Westphalianism and liberal understanding of multiculturalism and citizenship (Fraser 2009); but as well as under the circumstances of the neoliberal or “free market” capitalism, whose marketization processes are not only affecting social goods and livelihood opportunities but also create the subject(s) of this new social order together with the distinction between the useful i.e. employable (white) labour force, and the redundant and therefore dehumanized Roma.

In four distinct chapters, the article describes these subject-constructs of Roma: it discusses how are these constructs linked to broader politics of culture, human rights, social inclusion and development, and how are the Roma elites reframing the subject positions of Roma while they cannot escape of being governed by these prescriptive discursive formations. Further on, the paper notices that – due to the power structure within which they operate – these subject positions are exploited by racist interpretations of why is that Roma, despite their integration among the subjects enjoying the benefits of these politics, continue to be “different”. Eventually my aim is to reveal how – while targeting recognition, legal justice, redistribution and development – the effects of these politics remain limited due to the fact that they do not address the socio-economic and cultural system, which creates the subordinated subject positions. These positions are prescribed in a way that enforces people speaking and acting from these positions to try transgressing subordination by aiming to fit into the system and not by changing it.

The analysis views subjectification in the context of a political economy creating unequal social order and leads to the conclusion that the racialization of Roma is the very essence of this subjectification: it pushes Roma to the dehumanized margins of the society that is both symbolically and economically needed for the creation and functioning of the mainstream. The latter nurtures its sense of superiority by comparing himself to the sub-human marginal, and in material terms it makes his profit out of the exploitation of its cheap labour force. This is a form of economic racism that on the one hand creates the precarious class (a highly dependent and exploitable labour force) as the inferior ‘race’ or sub-human, and on the other hand is associating poverty with Roma lifestyle, and Gypsyhood with poverty, eventually creating the Roma as “The” sub-human precariat. This racism is constitutive of capitalism, and not only because it culturally justifies socio-economic inequalities between Roma and non-Roma, but also because it (re)produces a dependent and exploitable labour force that is disqualified from being human and that might be treated as another ‘race’, as non-human.


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