Ethnic identification and the desire to belong in the case of urban youth from Romania [Enikő Vincze]

Enikő Vincze: Ethnic identification and the desire to belong in the case of urban youth from Romania. In Migrant, Roma and Post-Colonial Youth in Education across Europe. Being ‘Visibly Different’, edited by Julia Szalai and Claire Schiff, Palgrave, 2014. Chapter 13, pp. 198-213. The book was launched on the 18th of September 2014 at Central European University.

The book grew out of a recently completed comprehensive cross-country research project entitled Ethnic Differences in Education and Diverging Prospects for Urban Youth in an Enlarged Europe (EDUMIGROM), conducted under the auspices of the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Union between 2008-2011. It compares the educational experiences of adolescents from a variety of ‘visible’ ethnic minority groups such as Roma in Central Europe, post-colonial minorities in France and England, Turks and Arabs in Germany, and recent immigrants in Scandinavia. Focusing on underprivileged urban contexts, it reveals the structural inequalities and also the often conflict-ridden inter-ethnic relations which develop in classrooms, playgrounds and larger communities. Ranging from explorations of quasi-ghettos to experiments in racial and ethnic integration, the encountered situations shed light on the challenges of managing diversity in local communities and on an all-societal level. The contributions consider both the routine practices of ethnic distinctions and colour-blindness in schooling, as well as the ways in which various actors – students, teachers, and parents – experience and understand these practices. In doing so, this volume reveals that despite the broad consensus on equal opportunity as a desirable aim, ethnic differentiation remains a key source of exclusion across Europe.

Chapter 13 of the volume addresses the desires to belong of urban Roma in Romania. It examinea how these desires are shaped by ethnic identification and, concurrently, how ethnic ‘otherness’ is constructed by ambiguous desires of integration and separation. On a larger scale, the study observes that, under the conditions of post-socialist transformations and of the current neoliberal regime, the case of vulnerable Roma from Romania exhibits a particular trend: their stigmatized ethnic identification becomes a cause of their advanced marginality (Wacquant 2008), and it acts as a mechanism for transforming them from citizens with universal capacities and rights into disadvantaged, racialized subjects. After defining its conceptual framework, the second part of the study presents the social context of everyday life of Roma youth from ‘Transilvan city’, followed by a discussion of their ambiguous identity strategies. By addressing the relationship between ethnic identification, sociospatial segregation and racialized citizenship in the fourth part, the analysis will relate the everyday experiences of ethnic ‘othering’ in the context of schooling to the broader sociopolitical issues of the formation of racialized urban marginality and citizenship.