Academic journal article Romani Studies

The Romanization of Poverty: Spatial Stigmatization of Roma Neighborhoods in Turkey

Academic journal article Romani Studies

The Romanization of Poverty: Spatial Stigmatization of Roma Neighborhoods in Turkey

Article excerpt


The Roma are one of the groups in society that carry the stigma of poverty strengthened by the elements of ethnic labeling, stereotyping, and discrimination. "Being Roma" in a particular context is closely linked with their stigmatized space. There is an ongoing stigma attached to the inhabitants of the Roma neighborhoods. Thus, Roma have a stigmatized spatial identity that refers to permanent poverty and exclusion from the economic and social spheres of life. This article argues that the spatial stigmatization defines the social exclusion process of those who inhabit the Roma space, as those who reside in the Roma neighborhoods, regardless of their ethnic identity, are inevitably categorized as "Roma", representing the "disrespectable" and "immoral" poor.

We do not intend to depict Roma as an umbrella ethnic category to embrace different groups with similar life chances, although we are aware of the fact that "Roma" is employed as an umbrella category for groups with similar life- styles. This approach has been criticized, as it attempts to override the differences within a heterogeneous group with different traditions, cultures, and languages (McGarry 2011). Putting our emphasis on spatial aspects of stigma, poverty, and social exclusion, we aim to illustrate that those socially excluded in different cities hold a common stigmatized spatial identity of being from a Roma neighborhood. Therefore, the stigmatized space, referred to as a Roma neighborhood in the discourses of the city dwellers, defines our initial point of departure to understand the spatial processes of social exclusion that we call the "Romanization of poverty and social exclusion". How does a stigmatized Roma space define the poverty and social exclusion of those who reside in that space? How is it intertwined with livelihood strategies?

In this context, firstly, we will refer to the discussions of stigma, space, and social exclusion in the literature that shape our theoretical and analytical framework. Following this, we will elaborate on the social exclusion debate that shapes the poverty studies after the 1990s in the context of Turkey.Within this context, building on our research, we will elaborate on the "Romanization of poverty", which manifests itself through spatial stigmatization that is entangled with the Roma's insecure livelihood. Our ethnographic work that this article is based on exemplifies this experience that the stigma of space when interweaved with an insecure livelihood leads to the most severe forms of poverty and social exclusion for those who are subordinated to live in a Roma space.

Stigma, space, and social exclusion

The concept of social exclusion refers to a multidimensional and dynamic process of exclusion from different spheres of life (Byrne 1999; Barnes et al. 2002; Barry 2002; Madanipour 2003; Room and Britton 2006). As a structural problem,1 it inhibits equal participation in society and equal access to resources. Social exclusion is the main barrier to equal opportunity that finds itself in educational, occupational, and political spheres (Barry 2002). Madanipour (2003) points to the fact that social exclusion could force an individual out of society in four arenas: economic, political, cultural, and spatial. In the economic arena, the lack of access to employment networks and the lack of a formal job with a regular income are sources of social exclusion. Here, not just being unemployed but also working in unqualified and insecure jobs with an uncertain income are causes of poverty and social exclusion. The livelihood of the poor is shaped by constant movement among unemployment, unqualified jobs, and living on social assistance (Bugra and Keyder 2008). Consequently, the process of social exclusion in the economic sphere is determined by the conditions that define the livelihood strategies of the poor (Byrne 1999).

However, the phenomenon of social exclusion cannot be explained by merely a lack of access to the economic arena. …

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