Whose Voice Is Critical? Research with Roma, Between Discourses of Tradition and Everyday Feminist Struggles

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 33 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Oana MARCU, Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy
Romanian Roma women often talk about the rules of behaviour appropriate for men and for women as cultural aspects, specific to their own ethnic group. For adults as for youth, being Roma means thinking and acting according to profound differences between men and women, the latter being in a disadvantaged position in the family and community hierarchy.

In order to ensure that norms are respected or to punish those who transgress them, there are systems of control: shame, gossip, reputation, prestige in the bridal market or the community trials. Parents and other family members teach, monitor and sometimes punish girls, prescribing precise limits to their freedom and acceptable social paths for them. The prestige of the entire community and of the family depends on the respect of these norms, reified as “tradition”.

While conducting ethnography in the intersectionality framework and with the PAR approach, I felt divided between the imperative of respecting and reflecting participants’ points of view and criticizing some of the mechanisms that perpetuate gender inequality, from my own standpoint. How could a researcher conduct feminist research when participants did not seem to want gender arrangements to be questioned?

In order to solve this conflict, I started by distinguishing between everyday, enacted criticism that Roma women inavertedly made of gender norms and the official discourse regarding culture and ethnicity, emphasising gender and ethnic difference. Differentiating between the accounts of the younger and those of the elder, between those of women and of men also helped in building a more complex image of gender dynamics. With the participated research phase, in which young people explored affective relationships by interviewing their peers, their point of view emerged more clearly, and it was possible to tackle, in group discussions, their experience of the conflicts between tradition and new lifestyles.