Central European University hosted Critical Approaches to Romani Studies, the largest annual Romani studies gathering worldwide, on May 15-17. Organized by CEU’s Romani Studies Program, the conference was attended by junior and senior scholars from more than twenty countries, thirty universities and a dozen research institutes.
“This conference brings together scholars who cover diverse topics from many different fields. There is no other event where you can find such a diversity of perspectives on Roma. What I value most is that we try to create a space where people can exchange ideas and have disagreements,” said Professor Iulius Rostas, chair of the Romani Studies Program.
This year’s conference was the largest in its three-year history, with nearly 60 papers presented over the course of three days. Panel topics included environmental justice and public health, representation of Roma in arts are culture, the cultural appropriation of flamenco, anti-Roma politics in Europe, the Roma LGBTQ movement and the genocide of Roma during World War II.
Although Roma have been the subject of academic inquiry for centuries, Roma participation in shaping this discourse has remained limited. This conference provides the opportunity for the increasing number of Roma and non-Roma scholars who use critical theories and methods in their research on Roma communities to discuss their work.
“Gathering Roma studies scholars together so that they can build up new networks, form research groups and dialogue is critically important. By doing this, we are canonizing and institutionalizing the knowledge produced by and about Roma,” said Professor Angela Kocze, academic director of the Roma Graduate Preparation Program.
The conference offers a unique opportunity for scholars, especially those in the early stages of their career, because all attendance costs for participants are covered by the support of donors and sponsors, including the Open Society Institute Roma Initiatives Office, the Roma Education Fund and the Velux Foundations. In addition to defraying costs, the conference also supports junior researchers by requiring participants to submit unpublished papers that will benefit from feedback and an exchange of ideas. A select number of papers presented at the conference are published in the journal Critical Romani Studies.
Now in its third year, the Critical Approaches to Romani Studies conference is part of a larger, ongoing shift in Romani studies trends.
“Five years ago, the main discourse on Roma was dominated by anthropologists and linguists talking about the dialects, clothing and poverty of Roma. Now we have a completely different discourse. Many scholars, researchers and practitioners are using critical social theories in their work on Roma, and even non-Roma are questioning past ways of interacting with Roma as part of critical whiteness. The interest is growing. It’s an absolutely fabulous experience to bring together such a diversity of perspectives on Roma,” said Rostas.
Ismael Cortes, a graduate of CEU’s Roma Studies Program who returned to campus for the conference, spoke to CEU about his recent election to Spain’s Congress of Deputies as a member of parliament. He was one of four Romani MPs elected this year. Cortes discusses why he pivoted from scholarly research to politics and what he hopes to achieve during his term.