Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

"They Took Personal Data and Some Pictures, Yet They Found Nothing for Us" - Misunderstanding and Suspicion in a Marginal Roma Neighborhood from Romania

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

"They Took Personal Data and Some Pictures, Yet They Found Nothing for Us" - Misunderstanding and Suspicion in a Marginal Roma Neighborhood from Romania

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper claimed to reveal, that mistrust during fieldwork is more than an unpleasant individual experience: it is a telling ethnographic data. Repudiation of Gallilei Street ghetto residents was equally due to a wrong research question and some external factors. Post-socialist industrial restructuration and residential policies brought - likewise everywhere in Eastern Europe - insecurity to the one-time privileged working-class. To go further, unemployment entailed changes in residential patterns and echoed new forms of exclusion. The better-offworkers, Roman and non-Roma, could - at least partly - maintain their previous conditions, but many were pushed to the fringes of the social structure. In lack of capital they cannot stand in the process of privatization, lost their rented apartments and become evicted. Others, coming as a second wave to an old block, were facing uncertain situation with property rights; decaying conditions - initially a cause of avoided privatization later an effect of it - turned the green building into a "Gypsy ghetto". And ghettoization did not only entail impoverishment, but created dependency to local institution, claiming to do good to the locals. Mismatch with school and NGO, being used by many, promising to help the Roma, green block inhabitants look suspiciously to anyone resembling with such helpers.

Keywords

Roma, suspicion, fieldwork, post-socialist impoverishment, urban ghettoes

Difficulties in doing fieldwork, in contacting informants is a familiar issue in anthropology: "We were intruders [in the eyes of locals]" - recalls Clifford Geertz (1973:p.412) his less successful entering the Balinese field - "people not part of their life". Subsequently, fragility in building up connections between researcher and the community is common for Romany studies, too. Two famous monographs on Roma relay difficulties in starting fieldwork. In his Hungarian version of The Time of the Gypsies, Michael Steward (1994:p.32)2. recalls the perseverance necessary for being accepted by the local Roma: in order to show how serious he was about his plans for moving in, Stewart proceeded to build his house in the settlement, raising understanding, admiration, and later acceptance of the locals Similarly, Judith Okely points out how difficult the entering of a Traveller-Gypsy group was in the UK:

"Soon I was offered my own caravan on various sites by the local officer, also sympathetic to my interests. Eventually I needed only to appear as a student, without any duties of a rent collector etc. This role first as a student helper or warden was the only possible opening, and viable only during the short life of the temporary sites. Months if not years of day visits could have been spent in the vain hope that the Travellers might spontaneously invite me to join them. Attempts to divert me to other localities failed partly because the opportunity to live alongside Gypsies after such a brief acquaintance existed nowhere else." (Okely 1983:p.40)

My following story of doing difficult fieldwork in a marginalized Roma community from a Romanian city claims to be more than a self-reflexive narrative. It is an analysis of misunderstanding between a researcher and his/her informants, where mismatch is regarded as telling ethnographic data instead of mistake. Thus, ways of understanding suspicion is expected here to reveal structural facts that create and reinforce sociocultural exclusion.

Beginnings - the research history

Neither the "green block of flats" nor its surroundings - a "Gypsy neighborhood" in a Romanian city - had initially been chosen as focus for my future research. It was the local school that - due to its bad fame and an overwhelming presence of Roma students - was in April 2007 sorted out as a proper site to investigate school inequalities in the years to come. Therefore, when joining the "Inclusion 2007" PHARE project a couple of months later, I had immediately proposed the school's surroundings, the district, as my fieldwork-to-be for the nation-wide investigation on Roma social inclusion. …

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