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Vesterberg, Viktor

Exploring misery discourses: problematized Roma in labour market projects

European journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults 7 (2016) 1, S. 25-40

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Vesterberg, Viktor: Exploring misery discourses: problematized Roma in labour market projects - In:

European journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults 7 (2016) 1, S. 25-40 - URN:


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peDOCS Deutsches Institut für Internationale Pädagogische Forschung (DIPF) Informationszentrum (IZ) Bildung E-Mail: pedocs@dipf.de Internet: www.pedocs.de European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults, Vol.7, No.1, 2016, pp. 25-40 Exploring misery discourses: problematized Roma in labour market projects Viktor Vesterberg Linköping University, Sweden (viktor.vesterberg@liu.se) Abstract The aim of this article is to analyse learning practices in labour market projects co- financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) targeting unemployed Roma in Sweden.

The empirical material consists of 18 project descriptions from ESF projects, as well as national and European policy documents concerned with the inclusion of the Roma in contemporary Europe. The contemporary empirical material is analysed in relation to a government report from 1956 concerning the ‘Roma issue’ in Sweden. The analytical perspective of the study is governmentality, and the analysis focuses on different kinds of problematizations and the discursive positioning of the Roma subjects. One of the main findings is that unemployed Roma are situated in various discourses of misery and constructed as in need of reshaping their subjectivities in order to become educable as well as employable.

Keywords: Roma; learning; adult education; European Social Fund (ESF) Introduction In today’s Europe the situation for Roma is problematized, not least in terms of lacking education (Miskovic, 2013). In what has been called ‘the learning society’ (Masschelein, Simons, Bröckling & Pongratz, 2007), lack of education becomes particularly problematic. The aim of this article is to analyse learning practices in labour market projects targeting unemployed Roma in Sweden. The focus of the analysis is on the discursive construction and governing of Roma in relation to contemporary norms of the employable citizen. Further, the analysis is historicised through a government report from 1956 concerning the ‘Roma issue’ in Sweden (Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, 1956). Questions guiding the analysis are: How are the Roma constructed, positioned and problematized in relation to un/employability and learning?

How are the Roma to become employable and included in society?

In EU politics, there seems to be an agreement that ‘Roma integration requires an enhanced political commitment to Roma inclusion’ (European Commission, 2011, p.

11). This political commitment is to be brought into action in many different practices, ISSN 2000-7426 © 2016 The author DOI 10.3384/rela.2000-7426.rela9071 www.rela.ep.liu.se [26] Viktor Vesterberg whereas the empirical focus for this article is one illustrative example: labour market projects, as co-financed by the European Social Fund (ESF). These projects can be seen as sites for adult learning, not least in terms of learning to become employable (Garsten & Jacobsson, 2004).

The main reason for choosing Roma as a group to analyse stems from previous research on ESF projects targeting unemployed ‘people with a foreign background’ (Vesterberg, 2013). This research shows that, in spite of a political ambition in Sweden to maintain general welfare and integration politics, two target groups are pinpointed on ethnic or national grounds –Somalis and the Roma1.

Analytical perspective

The analytical perspective of this study is inspired by Michel Foucault (2007, 2008) and other scholars who have elaborated on the concept of governmentality (cf. Dean, 2010;

Rose, 1999; Walters, 2012). A governmentality analysis focuses on different kinds of problematizations, as ‘problems do not exist in themselves’ (Dean & Hindess, 1998, p.

9), but rather, are produced in specific times, places and institutional and professional milieus. Power is, from this perspective, understood not only as prohibiting and repressing, but also as productive (Foucault, 1980, p. 59). Thus, power relationships constructs subjects, directing the will and aspirations of people, and conducting the conduct of the targeted subjects. These processes are facilitated by claims to truth and knowledge. Hence, power and knowledge are intertwined and closely related to problematizations. From a governmentality perspective, learning becomes a way of governing people through power and knowledge in attempts to conduct the conduct of the targeted learner (Masschelein et al., 2007).

As governmentality has a discursive character, it is crucial to ‘analyse the conceptualizations, explanations and calculations that inhabit the governmental field’ (Miller & Rose 2008, p. 29f) one is analysing. Following Foucault (1991, p. 58), the focus of the analysis is on the discursive positioning of subjects, in other words, how these subjects are constructed, positioned and problematized through particular ways of reasoning about the unemployed Roma in relation to un/employability and learning. In this way, the targeted subjects are made governable through problematizations.

There is a long tradition of problematizing the Roma. Historically, the Roma population in Europe has been understood as ‘representative of an underdeveloped, uncivilized, non-European pariah culture’ in need of radical assimilation (van Baar, 2011, p. 78). In such ways of reasoning about the Roma concepts of race, nation, ethnicity and culture have been mobilized in constructing ‘the Roma problem’. It has also been argued that much research on and with the Roma is primarily concerned with who the Roma are what they are doing, and that theoretically informed research concerned with broader questions of discourses on the Roma are scarce (Tremlett, McGarry & Agarin, 2014). In line with a governmentality perspective the Roma is, in this article, understood as an ‘invented’ category, as well as any other ethnicity or nationality (Isin, 2012, p. 161). The Roma are understood and analysed as an ethnicized discursive construction. From this perspective, any ‘people’ is the effect of relationships of power and knowledge, producing subjectivities and making subjects governable in various ways. Regarding the construction of the Roma people, a range of ‘Gypsy scholars’ from the late eighteenth and early seventeenth centuries have been crucial in producing ‘truths’ about the ‘nature’ and ‘origins’ of the Roma as a European minority (van Baar, 2011). Such ‘truths’ have had a persistent impact on popular understandings Exploring misery discourses [27] of the Roma in Europe, illustrating the close connection of power and knowledge in constructing ‘a people’.

Methodological considerations and empirical material

ESF in Sweden has so far co-financed more than 90,000 projects with more than one million participants. ESF is financing projects with up to 40 per cent of the total costs.

The remaining costs are covered by public co-financing, for instance via the Employment Service, the Social Insurance Agency, local authorities, or county boards.

The main empirical material analysed in this article consists of 18 project descriptions from projects found with the search word ‘Roma’ in the ESF project database.2 The analysed projects existed during the ESF program period of 2007 – 2013, and the timespan of the projects range from six months up to three years. The total budget for the ESF (for the whole of the EU) during this programme period was SEK 750 billion.

Out of these, the ESF in Sweden got SEK 6.2 billion.3 The analysed ESF projects have as their overarching goal to increase the supply of labour and to create social inclusion.

The projects targeting the Roma are driven by a range of organizations, from civil society organizations such as adult education providers (eight projects), to universities (two projects), county administrative boards and municipalities (seven projects), and the public employment office (one project).

The size of the project descriptions range from approximately two to ten pages, and their content is, to a certain degree determined in advance, as there are several mandatory headings imposed by the ESF.4 From a governmentality perspective, the project descriptions are analysed as discursive texts constituting the learning practices which constructs and position the Roma subjects within the discourse (cf. Fejes, 2014, p. 6). The projectification of welfare (Brunila, 2011) produces a specific discursive language genre guiding the vocabulary of the analysed project descriptions to be aligned with policy from the area where projects are applying for funds. In the analysis, the project descriptions are related to national (Ministry of Employment, 2011; Ministry of Culture, 2010) as well as European policy documents (ESF, 2007, European Commission, 2011) dealing with the inclusion of the Roma people in contemporary Europe.

Walters (2012, p. 110ff) argues that many studies of governmentality have lost their relationship to genealogy. Historicising governmental rationalities may destabilize and problematize contemporary problematizations and ‘truths’. In order to deepen the analysis of the contemporary problematizations of the Roma, I historicize the problematizations of the Roma through a parallel analysis of a government report from the 1950s concerning the situation of the Roma, The Gypsy issue5 (Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, 1956). This analytical strategy aims to create a contrast to the contemporary project descriptions, and renders visible the ways in which being Roma has been problematized in two distinct time periods.

[28] Viktor Vesterberg Situating the Roma in Sweden and the European Union With 10 – 12 million people, the Roma constitute the largest minority population in Europe, and every European state has Roma inhabitants (Isin, 2012, p. 161). The EU has allocated substantial amounts of resources to tackling the problem of socially

excluded Roma:

For the European Social Fund, € 9.6 billion have been allocated in the period 2007-2013 for measures targeting socio-economic inclusion of disadvantaged people – among them marginalized Roma – and € 172 million have been explicitly allocated for actions aiming at integrating the Roma. (European Commission, 2011: 173: 9) While the main part of European Roma live in Central and Eastern Europe (Miskovic, 2009), they have also lived in Sweden since at least the sixteenth century (Selling, 2013).They constitute one of five national minorities in Sweden6, granting them certain rights regarding the use of Romani as a minority language. The status of national minority also includes being officially recognized as a ‘part of the Swedish cultural heritage’ (Ministry for Integration and Gender Equality, 2007). In spite of this minority status, the Roma have been depicted as incompatible with Swedish welfare society, and Roma culture has been constructed as a synonym for social problems (Selling, 2013, p.


The problematizing of the Roma is a persistent practice which, for instance, can be noticed in contemporary debates on Roma begging in the streets of cities throughout Europe (Mäkinen, 2013), or on Bulgarian Roma migrants picking berries under precarious conditions in the North of Sweden (Mesic & Woolfson, 2015). In postcommunist Europe, the Roma have been constructed as the ‘ultimate scapegoat’ for every hardship that came with the transition to market economy (Miskovic, 2009).

Further, studies have shown how their presence can destabilize the ideals of European citizenship and free mobility within the EU (Aradau, Huysmans, Macioti, & Squire, 2013). The Roma occupy an ambiguous position in relation to the EU, as they reveal the borders of inclusion and exclusion of EU citizenship (Caglar & Mehling, 2013).

This academic interest in the Roma situation is accompanied with a political concern for the ‘Roma issue’. Political responses to the this issue have differed among European countries in different times, from once having the goal of exterminating the Roma in Nazi Germany, to the ‘Gypsy consultants’ in the heydays of Swedish welfarism, to the demolishing of Roma camps and subsequent expulsion in France in the early 2000s (Fekete, 2014).

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