Sociological Approachesto Race and Ethnicity: The Roma in Postcommunist Central Europe

Course Description: 

The course takes its departure from that of Michael Stewart on "Anthropological Approaches to Ethnicity, Racism and Nationalism." It is deliberately planned to couple the theories, concepts, methodological assumptions, and empirical investigations of anthropology with the respective building-blocks in the sociology of race, ethnicity, and majority-minority relations. While bridging the two courses in a kind of a sibling-relation, the current program attempts, however, to provide an independent interpretation of the formation of the 'Roma issue' in contemporary postcommunist societies. In other – practical – terms, this course is thus conceived as an independent unit that can be taken without preliminary training in "Anthropological Approaches...", while it aims at offering an interdisciplinary completion for earlier attendants of the latter.


The course focuses on the overt and covert social, political, economic, and cultural 'usage' of the (re)invented concepts of race and ethnicity in postcommunist societies. It gives an overview of the leading theories of post-communist social stratification and places the concepts of race and ethnicity into the context of the deeply altering patterns of distribution of power and wealth. In this contextualization, relations of  institutionalized power will be analyzed from formal/legal and empirical/practical perspectives alike, pointing to hidden interests of  representation/under-representation of ethnic minorities in the background. Similarly, major principles of the new neoliberal welfare policies will be analyzed from an ethnic/racial perspective by exploring those massive – and complex – interests that lead to the financial/material 'disenfranchisement' on racial/ethnic grounds and that serve to stabilize the newly established property-relations of postcommunist societies. These discussions will orient us in reviewing the explanatory power of certain recently born conceptual constructs of contemporary sociology in characterizing postcommunist societies, such as:  'intermingled relationships of class and ethnicity,' 'intersection between race and poverty,' 'ethnic deprivation and the birth of the new underclass', 'racial disadvantage as the source of social exclusion', etc. The critical examination of these constructs will incorporate both the rapidly expanding theoretical literature and some key empirical investigations that took their departure from one or another powerful strand of it. By combining theory and the thorough revision of its translation into operacionalized notions and empirical methods, a distinct part of the course aims at contributing to the ongoing international debate on the social scientist's responsibility in situating him/herself in 'consciousness raising' and ‘empowering’ movements. Ideas of
'value free,' 'neutral,' 'objective' empiricism will be discussed in this context, and a few extra-sensitive matters of running research in Roma communities will be raised against the built-in power relations of such research.


The course will consist of four larger blocks. It will be run in the form of lectures combined with discussion sessions on different aspects of the 'racial/ethnic issue' in our region, with a focus on various aspects of contemporary social stratification (altogether 12 classes are planned – see below). The discussion sessions are designed  to explore some key dilemmas of empirical research on race/ethnicity. They will heavily build on exploring and systemizing the students' own experience in matters of identity, prejudice, community and personal degradation, etc. and intends to provide an introduction to the actual planning of race/ethnicity-sensitive sociological investigation with some of the conclusions in mind.


In the Spring semester (2015), a new course launched on ‘Roma Exclusion: The Racialization of Poverty’ that will provide insights into the main structural factors and currents in local communities that make  Roma poverty different from the similar state of non-Roma through processes of racialization. For this purpose, the Spring course will offer an introduction to the concepts and the methodology of understanding different manifestations of poverty partly through familial interviews and partly through analyzing representations of the problem in films and documentaries. While the Spring course can be attended independently, students of the course on ‘Sociological Approaches…’ may find it interesting to register also for the ‘Roma exclusion…’ course.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students attending this course will gain:


  • Insight into those historical, structural and institutional factors and processes that produce and reproduce the multiply disadvantaged positions of Roma in Central European societies.
  • By looking at associations between poverty and institutionalized and personified manifestations of discrimination through a comparative lens, they will become capable of contextualizing ethnic/racial differentiation in the working of post-socialist welfare states.
  • Further, attendants of the course will acquire a set of methodological tools for assessing certain policies and measures in light of their impact on racial/ethnic inequalities and the ethnicization of poverty.
  • By writing their short essays/reviews, students’ skills in critically examining different schools of thoughts in interpreting poverty and ethnicity will be enhanced and their ability in writing high-quality literary reviews will be developed.
  • Through active participation in the weekly discussions in class, students will acquire skills in orally presenting given scholarly arguments and defending their own standpoints in debates.
  • By drafting short written assignments throughout the course and also by accomplishing their final essays, they will demonstrate capabilities in translating theoretical concepts into research designs for fieldwork on exploring interethnic relations and also in assessing policy outcomes against their implications on the broadly understood ethno-social relations within the region.

Learning outcomes are supported, in addition to the course design, by the instructor’s continuous feedback on students’ accomplishments and also by formal assessment of their course-work.



Marking for the course will be based in 30 per cent on assessing contribution to the in-class discussions, in 30 percent on the midterm essay, and in 40 per cent on the more extensive final essay.


Toward the end of Part II of the course (see below),  a  set of  titles will be announced to provide ample choice for the preparation of the midterm essay. The optional titles will address certain conceptual, methodological issues, dilemmas of choosing the appropriate research techniques and matters of operacionalization – all covered by the introductory lectures, in-class discussions, and the adjoining reading list. This writing should be of a length of 1500-2000 words. It has to be submitted through e-mail to Dr. J. Szalai (szalai.julia (( a))


Deadline for submitting the midterm essay will be set in due course in class. Individually addressed comments will be given within a month.


In a similar vein, a set of titles will be offered to choose from for the final essay. The titles will provide a scope for further developing students’ research ideas and methodological approaches, while will give weight also to the proper theoretical foundation of these designs. 


The final essays of a length of 2500-3000 words should be submitted to the above e-mail address. Deadline of submission will be set in due course in class. Individually addressed comments and final grading will be provided within a month. 

File Attachments: