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27/01/2014

An Indefinite Marriage? Culture and/vs. Social Closure in a Romanian City

Those who work on power and its dimensional and disciplinary ramifications are the privileged audience of this post. Apologies to all others, but what I want to do here is to reflect on the study of group- and community- making.

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Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002)
Social science has long attempted to shed light on the ways in which groups come to being and being perceived the way they do. The family is probably the most common and classic subject on that matter. Regional communities, neighbourhood collectives and cultural and subcultural grouping are also widespread subjects among scholars. Recently, Loic Wacquant was asked to clarify the making of classes according to Pierre Bourdieu. Indeed, Bourdieu is one of the first authors whose theories come to mind when thinking about group making. The reason is that he was among the first who developed a rigorous analysis not only of what is 'out there' in the social world, but also how - and importantly, why - we analysts, and the people with whom we work, happen to perceive what is 'out there' the way we do. Reflexivity, and "reflex-reflexivity" - one of Bourdieu's ethnographic milestones.

I think one of the main reasons why Bourdieu could so well capture the nuances of the social world and the ways we perceive them - his always-bifocal analysis - is because he was fundamentally a Durkheimian. Durkheim was one of the first whose work was squarely defined by what was at that time anthropology, i.e. the explanation of various phenomena happening in small and categorically non-Western contexts, typically under colonial rule, based on a long and deeply immersed seujour in them. Without Durkheim's reflections on universality and religion, for instance, it would be hard to imagine Bourdieu problematizing our/his own perception of social worlds and phenomena. Of course Canguilhem and historical epistemology played a substantial role in shaping his ideas, but as far as his theories of identities- and class- making are concerned, Durkheim remains his main source.
    Pata Rat settlement built in 2010 by the city council ©  Adrian Nemeti

Looking through these lenses, I wrote an article drawing on my extended fieldwork in Cluj; the article has finally been published in Civilisations - here.  I don't engage with Bourdieu explicitly, let alone Durkheim, but I do connect theoretically 'culture' and social closure in the making of "The Roma" as a grouping in Cluj - sorting them, identifying them, classifying them, and ultimately having the city council relegating several low-income Romani families at the extreme urban periphery close to a landfill, without access to services of any kind (see photo)...

My main theoretical source for connecting 'culture' and social closure is Michael Herzfeld's concept of cultural intimacy (1997). I think the concept has too rarely been applied to sociological works on urban marginality, but it has an enourmous potential of explaining emerging dynamics of radical social closure. In general, the links between 'culture' and social closure do not seem to me to have been deeply scrutinized. So, their relationships is still indefinite (there are exceptions, like Andreas Wimmer's work in Mexico...) .

This recent municipal segregating policy is one of the many of this kind in contemporary Romania, and not only in Romania. Neoliberal governmentality (Foucault has extensively written and lectured on this, and Wacquant discusses it empirically) is today conventional wisdom when it comes to dispossessed Romani families (and clearly not only Romani). The state is undergoing deep changes in the ways it faces urban poverty, and looking at them from the case of the treatment of poor urban Roma sheds light on the ways in which the state in Europe is becoming a key producer of advanced forms of poverty and marginality.

What remains to be done, in my opinion, is to study the logic of production of this kind of emerging marginality. And one of the main references for doing this is to look at the ways in which, and the extent to which, race in neoliberal Europe became a key dimension within which resources and practical alternatives on which policy makers and state authorities in general draw become limited, sorted out and legitimized. This process of limitation, sorting out and legitimation seems to make those segregating policies and measures acceptable and "clean".




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