Academic journal article Romani Studies

Intersectionality Theory and Bosnian Roma: Understanding Violence and Displacement

Academic journal article Romani Studies

Intersectionality Theory and Bosnian Roma: Understanding Violence and Displacement

Article excerpt


This article expands the scholarship on Roma and intersectionality by drawing on empirical examples from my research on domestic violence against Romani women (hereafter Romnia)1 in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s and with displaced Bosnian Roma in Fargo, North Dakota, in the 2000s. An intersectional analysis of my data reveals that different identity features become salient in different political, economic, and social contexts. For example, I highlight the different roles that race and ethnicity played in shaping perceptions about Roma in Bosnia-Herzegovina (hereafter BiH) and in the United States (hereafter the US), and how these perceptions influenced relationships between Roma and non-Roma in each location. I connect these case studies by drawing attention to overlapping institutional contexts and state histories, or assemblages (Ong and Collier 2005; Puar 2007), in shaping local perceptions about race, ethnicity, class, and gender.

In what follows, I first provide a summary of my conceptual frameworks, especially intersectional theory and methods as they pertain to my research. Then I give a brief history of Roma and scholarship by and about Romnia specifically. Next, I offer a background to the domestic violence study in BiH, followed by a discussion about the process of conducting research with Romnia in post-war BiH and reflections on that research. The third section of this article describes my work with Bosnian Romani refugees in the US. In the conclusion, I consider how the comparison of Roma in post-war BiH and as refugees in the US can serve as a case study for understanding "the intertwined relations of intersectionality and assemblages" (Puar 2012: 63).

Conceptual frameworks

Intersectionality emerged out of Critical Race Theory, a theoretical lens that legal scholars of color in the US proposed to examine how race, law, and power intersect and impact society (Omi and Winant 1994). Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term "intersectionality" from a legal studies standpoint to explain how Black women in the US had been subjected to violence from legal and social structures of race and gender (1989, 1991). She used the metaphor of a person standing in an intersection, potentially getting hit from all directions. Crenshaw was not the first to develop an analysis that incorporated race, class and gender (Combahee River Collective 1977; Davis 1981; Collins 1990). However, her term framed such research into a concise theory, paving the way for its application to a variety of contexts. Numerous scholars have broadened the use of intersectionality to include multiple, intertwined categories of analysis, such as ethnicity, caste, religion, skin color, sexual orientation, education, ability, nationality and age, among others (Ong 1999; Glick Schiller and Fouron 2001; Yuval-Davis 2006).

Kathy Davis (2008) argues that intersectionality has become a "buzzword" but remains a successful theory because of its ambiguity and incompleteness; it provides opportunities for unanticipated problems or events; and appeals to generalists and specialists in a way that opens up further discussion and inquiry. McCall (2005) draws attention to methodological problems of intersectionality and calls for more quantitative, intracategorical approaches to understanding complexities within and across multiple analytical categories. Phoenix and Pattynama point to the problematic ways in which intersectional theory has become "additive, politically fragmentary and essentializing" (2006: 187). Choo and Ferree (2010) critique scholars who highlight marginalized populations but fail to address their relationship to unmarked categories setting "the power relations that create these processes outside the picture" (2010: 137), which could be addressed by approaching intersectional methodologies as "relational rather than locational" (2010: 146). Patil (2013: 850) argues that, rather than taking into account transnational processes, intersectionality remains stubbornly rooted in nationalist discourse and borders. …

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