On May 25, 2017, an international two-day event, Critical Approaches to Romani Studies, convened at Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. Hosted by the Roma in European Societies (RES)initiative, this international conference sought to explore how Roma have begun to overcome exclusion from knowledge production by using critical theories and methods to reshape academic and research narratives on Roma.
Michael Ignatieff, President and Rector of the Central European University, confirmed the shared values that make the CEU the frontline of academic freedom today in his welcoming speech. He said, “Our commitment to Roma education and Romani access to education are very strong. CEU has partnered with Roma/Romani funding groups for a long time. Our commitment is the definition and mission of this place. I want to affirm how essential this is to our university.”
Assembling over 100 junior and senior, Roma and non-Roma researchers, the conference is the first step, in the words of Chair in Romani Studies, Iulius Rostas, to create “a more balanced discourse on Roma that goes beyond the current dominant discourses of poverty and social exclusion and focuses on Romani identity, antigypsyism and Roma as political subjects.” Professor Rostas emphasized that the “use of critical and social theories in Romani Studies should be a priority as a way to engage with other fields of studies and avoid isolation.”
Keynote speaker Ethel Brooks from Rutgers University led the audience through her investigation of the origins of Romani Studies. To illustrate, she presented a poignant and sensitive analysis of her discovery of Grannie Buckland, Gypsy Queen of Berkshire, catalogued among European queens in a British archive, and how images like hers advanced Britain’s colonial and imperial project.” To Brooks, Grannie Burkland was but one example of the orientalist project to construct the subject over whom Europe would rule, and now over a century later, allows for “the creation of critical space for de-colonialization.” She called on the audience to make a reckoning and open just such a space within Romani Studies.
Students and scholars later heard from distinguished speakers like REF Chair Andrzej Mirga leading a review of Those Who Count by Mihai Surdu on the distorted interpretation of data on Roma by leading research institutions; Carol Silverman, a leading US activist and academic, on chances for Roma collaboration and critique; and Ciprian Necula on the legacy of Nicolae Gheorghe, without a doubt one of the most important leaders for Roma emancipation and self-determination of recent times.
Panels over the next two days covered Critical Race Theory, knowledge production, post-colonial approaches, representation and the arts, and comparative and critical approaches to Roma inclusion.
The program can be found here.
The abstracts of participating scholars can be found here.
The Roma in European Societies initiative has been launched in 2016 as the first of its kind in higher education a new interdisciplinary effort to support existing work to improve the situation of Roma in all sectors at local, national, and regional levels through teaching and research, leadership development and community outreach funded by a consortium of grant makers the VELUX Foundations, Open Society Foundations’ Roma Initiatives Office (RIO) and the Roma Education Fund (REF).
Source: Roma Education Fund website
Photo credit: Tibor Racz