A3 Coping with marginalization: narrating and enacting new prospects


Chair: Yasar Abu Ghosh

Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Humanities, Charles University in Prague


This panel, set up ad hoc of individually received abstracts, will present papers that share a common concern with coping/survival strategies of marginalised or economically dominated groups through cases issued from within the Euroasian area. The theoretically quite diverse background informing the reflections of authors is at the same time a challenge to and a promise of an informed discussion on issues related to contemporary regimes of governmentality, centre-periphery relations and the ensuing forms of social exclusion. Papers will analyse on the one hand the conditions of social hierarchies (symbolic fragmentation, neoliberal order in labor relations and social redistribution) and on the other the cultural repertoires instigating new prospects. As in any research with socially vulnerable groups, authors are compelled to consider ethical issues as part and parcel of their research endeavour.


Saturday September 13, 2014


09:30-12:30        Coping with marginalization: narrating and enacting new prospects

Chair:  Yasar Abu Ghosh


09:30-09:40        Introduction

09:40-10:00         Natasha Beranek: From the Czech Republic to Canada (and Somewhere In-between): Ethnographic Examples of the Sociality, Ethnic Identification and Individuality of Roma in Transnational Perspective

10:00-10:20         Lale Yalcin-Heckmann: Are cultures of debt better suited to neoliberal economic reforms? Some thoughts on Azerbaijani traders and credit associations

10:20-10:30        Discussion


10:30-11:00        Coffee Break


11:00-11:20        Filip Pospíšil: „Zero tolerance“ and processes of marginalization and criminalization of Roma

11:20-11:40         Jiří Mertl: Redistribution of welfare: Instrument of assistance or control?

11:40-12:00         Michal Růžička: Researching the invisible: Ethics and politics of researching marginal peopleDiscussion


12:00-12:30        Discussion

12:30-14:00        Lunch


From the Czech Republic to Canada (and Somewhere In-between): Ethnographic Examples of the Sociality, Ethnic Identification and Individuality of Roma in Transnational Perspective

Natasha Beranek

(Fulbright Scholar, York University, Toronto)


This paper examines the ethnic identification and sociality of Romani individuals who do not neatly adhere to academic hierarchies of knowledge production about the social exclusion of members of post-1989 Czech Romani society.  These individuals, the social, economic and cultural circumstances that characterize their past and present lives, and (as a consequence) the narratives that they create in order to make sense of their lives, subvert these existing hierarchies of knowledge in three primary ways.

First, they are ‘middle-class’ Roma who have achieved certain markers of professional and educational ‘success’ as they are defined by mainstream Czech society. Alternatively, they find emotional resonance with these cultural ideas even if they have not yet seen some of them come to fruition. Second, narrative portions of their life histories highlight how these individuals distinguish themselves personally through the achievement of a consciousness beyond their cultures of socialization and acculturation. Defined in terms of social action, they have achieved individuality by moving beyond simple rejection of/adherence to/compromise on the so-called Romani/Gypsy ‘way of life’ and exploring other worldviews, moralities and aesthetics. Third, as individuals who both self-identify and are identified by others (both officially and unofficially) as ‘Roma’, they are creating alternative modes of sociality and ethnicity within a transnational context.

Through the (re-) exploration of life history excerpts from Romani women in a small town in Northern Bohemia (collected from 2007-2009) and Romani men who came to Ontario, Canada from the Czech Republic during the ‘first wave’ of asylum seekers in 1996-1997 (collected in 2014), this paper aims to demonstrate the anthropological necessity of considering ethnographic data that is trained on the level of individuals, and here in particular, on Romani persons whose narratives are unique representations of Romani sociality during “transition 2.0” instead of being ‘representative’ of ‘the post-communist experience’ of Czech Roma.




Are cultures of debt better suited to neoliberal economic reforms? Some thoughts on Azerbaijani traders and credit associations:

Lale Yalcin-Heckmann

(University of Pardubice)


Azerbaijani cultural values of being in debt (pay vermek ve almak, birinde payı olmak) have roots in and share many of the regional and historical cultural meanings of hospitality, sociality and cosmology. Many petty traders of the immediate post-Soviet years seem to have made numerous experiences with debt to usurers, but also to kin, friends, neighbours, as well as strangers. One can even think of the Azerbaijani trade culture as having a high propensity to take risks. Credit associations which started to develop in 2000s have both exacerbated debt relations as well as leading to their inflationary existence. This paper will try to highlight the historical and culturally specific roots of debt in Azerbaijan and will proceed to examine whether these roots could have any significant role in the structuration of consumerism and debt relations in contemporary Azerbaijani society. Such an examination should allow the analysis of the rise of consumerism and trade beyond their roots and links to Soviet and post-Soviet economies and economic cultures. The specific data to be presented derive from long years of observations on and research carried out at markets in small towns outside Baku, especially but not only with women traders. The traders will be embedded in their social networks and contexts and their debt relations will be analysed within different spheres, discussing economic success as well as lack of it. Finally these ethnographic findings will be related to theoretical discussions of value, debt and neoliberal economic transformations in former socialist (e.g. FSU) and nonsocialist countries (e.g. Turkey and Egypt).



„Zero tolerance“ and processes of marginalization and criminalization of Roma

Filip Pospíšil


Proposed paper will try to establish the impacts of the currently dominating discourses on Roma at national level and at selected 5 municipalities in the Czech Republics that understand Roma issues primarily as a security and criminal problem. Primary sources and direct observation will be used to analyse how shifts in Roma policies are related to changes in the discourses about the Roma and the framework in which the solution to their problems (or the problems they allegedly cause to society) are sought. These primary resources will include official documents, interviews with officials, government documents on Roma policies, minutes from parliamentary debates on Roma, etc.

Local studies commissioned by governmental Agency for social inclusion will be used as secondary source for this paper. Building on the concept of the “dangerization” of society developed by Michaelis Lianos and Mary Douglas, the researcher wishes to investigate how so called „zero tolerance“ allows institutional actors to redefine the term of social deviation and treat Roma not as marginalized persons but as social deviants. Based on the findings of the field research proposed paper will try to establish to what extend theoretical frameworks developed in the study of other social and ethnic groups in other societies might also bring insights to the processes of marginalization of Roma in the Czech municipalities. Wacquant’s concepts of ghettoization and punishment of the poor in the black and Hispanic Ghettos and European migrant suburbs and his findings on the turn in US policies from welfare to workfare and prisonfare might be instructive as the researcher will examine a comparable punitive turn in local policies affecting Roma.



Redistribution of welfare: Instrument of assistance or control?

Jiří Mertl

(Department of Political Science, University of West Bohemia)


In my presentation, I am going to focus on specific contemporary problem which academically emerged in the last decade in regard to creation of welfare surveillance as new scientific field. This problem can be characterized as application of illiberal practices on the applicants for social assistance by the Western state institutions responsible for evaluating and providing the assistance. The applicant has to provide detailed personal information (in some cases they also have to provide fingerprints); they are monitored by officials through the electronic cards which money are paid to; according to collected data, officials then interrogate the applicants wanting to know, for instance, why they were at the specific location and why bought specific stuffs; in some cases, the propositions of sterilization to single mothers were made and so on. All these practices effectively and symbolically stigmatize and marginalize the (potential) applicants. I decided to dedicate my dissertation to this problem with regard to three research problems/questions. First, illiberal practices are in contradiction to basic principles – supporting social inclusion and human dignity – of all approaches to social justice which social assistance is practical part of. Second, how is it possible that the rest of societies accept the practices that are in deep contradiction to basic human and constitution rights? Plausible answer to this question is provided by governmentality as the concept characterizing (in ultra-brief fashion) contemporary governance as setting up what is (ab)normal. It is therefore normal in contemporary Western systems, typical for their proliferation of neoliberal governmentality, that the applicants are abnormal deviants because they could not (or did not want to) succeed on the market and that it is completely acceptable to use the illiberal practices. Third, what is the situation in the Czech Republic, it is possible to observe similar practices in the Czech social system (state institutions) and how the system is discursively construed concerning social justice?

Besides the conceptual analysis that I am using to conceptualize various approaches to social justice, I will be analyzing (in conjunction to the third question) two sets of data. First set contains official documents (mainly of the Ministry for Social Affairs and government) and public speeches, debates and the like of the ministers, deputies and other relevant political actors. This analysis will be done in diachronic as well as synchronic way – I will be interested in characterization of contemporary situation (how the social justice discourse has being set up) as well as in discursive changes. Data will be collected from last four election cycles (2002, 2006, 2010, and 2013) and I will apply critical discourse analysis, metaphor analysis, and critical content analysis on the corpus. Second set contains semi-structured interviews with applicants and recipients of social assistance and also with experts (social workers and advisors) about their experience with social system (state institutions, especially but not only labor office). Respondents were addressed and selected through contacting various non-profit organization and civic associations (for example, Národní rada osob se zdravotním postižením, Akční spolek nezaměstnaných, Tady a Teď, Social Watch, and more). Subsequent respondents were addressed by snowballing (asking respondents who answered if they know other potential informants). Therefore, respondents were selected by using the combination of purposing and random sampling. The main goal of the interviews is to find out how the set up social justice discourse influences the applicants and recipients (and how the discourse manifests itself in their experiences, feelings, and statements) – if the institutions help them, how the conditions for granting the assistance are set up, and so on. In this sense, interviews (will) have partly form of narrative interviews.



Researching the invisible: Ethics and politics of researching marginal people

Michal Růžička

(Department of Sociology, University of West Bohemia)


In the paper I reflect on my ethnographic research with poor Roma families under post-socialism, as well as on the production of knowledge on marginalized people in general. Living on the periphery of the dominant socio-economic systems, marginal people often exploit precarious resources by means of informal strategies and tactics in an effort to secure their subsistence on a day-to-day basis. The craft of becoming invisible as well as remaining hidden from the gaze of the State apparatus thus might be understood as a key ingredient of living under conditions of limited resources and opportunities. The article is a story of how I have attempted to solve the moral dilemma of what to do with data that are essentially important for understanding social reality, yet at the same time have been meant to remain hidden, never uncovered and never made public to outsiders. The author shows how understanding „the interior“ – the subjectivity of marginal people who have severely limited access to resources and social recognition – is never fully possible without understanding the role which „the exterior“ plays in shaping its conditions of possibility – especially the recent transformation of the social, political and economic context under post-socialism. In the paper I argue that in order to understand the subjectivity and life strategies of marginal people, we need to recognize the crucial role which the State has been playing in shaping the larger socio-historical framework that has been (re)producing their living conditions.