Everyday Discrimination
: The Experiences of Hungarian Roma

  • Anna Dobai

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In my thesis I investigate minority group members’ experiences of discrimination, the impacts of discrimination on social identification and behaviour, and their understanding of and responses to such experiences. My research is based on the analysis of 30 semi-structured interviews with Hungarian Roma, members of a strongly stigmatized ethnic group in Hungary. The research questions pursed in this thesis can be organized around five broad themes.

One of these themes concerns minority group members’ experiences of the subtle forms of discrimination. Prior research has shown that subtle racism can be just as devastating (or even more so) for both the physical and psychological well-being as the effects of the more traditional, overt forms of discrimination. One factor that has been suggested as relevant for such negative consequences concerns the uncertainties involved in attributing the experienced negative treatment to discrimination (i.e. attributional ambiguity). Although experimental research has investigated the cognitive and emotional load associated with uncertainties in interpreting subtle racism, less is known about people’s own understanding of how interactions in which subtle discrimination is perceived impact on them. Analysing interviewees’ accounts of their experience of subtle discrimination contributes to our understanding of the role of meta-perceptions (beliefs about other’s beliefs) in minority-majority interactions.

The second theme addresses those experiences of subtle discrimination which entail a form of misrecognition. Research shows that there are several subtle forms of social identity misrecognition that can be painful. These rather subtle forms of misrecognition involve for example, the non-recognition of an important aspect of one’s social identification, or giving more emphasis to an identity in a given situation than one would like it to receive. My data contributes to documentation of these subtle (yet painful) forms of misrecognition by attending to participants own accounts of their perceptions of being miscategorised.

The third theme of the analysis concerns one particular form of recognition: the positive recognition of Roma musicality. There are contradictory findings about the benefits of positive stereotypes. Although it has been shown to have the potential to counter-balance the negative effects of being negatively stereotyped, positive stereotypes can also be received negatively by those who ‘receive’ them. While experimental research is suitable for investigating the different conditions in which positive stereotypes are or are not received positively, the qualitative analysis of these interviews allows insight into the ambivalences and complexities in participants’ perceptions of such positive recognition.

Besides investigating participants’ accounts of their experiences of discrimination, I also address questions related to their responses to those experiences. The fourth theme of the thesis concerns interviewees’ accounts of the use of humour in responding to perceived prejudice. Humour in intergroup relations has typically been viewed in two ways. On the one hand, it can be used to express discrimination. On the other, it can be used to decrease distance between social groups and thus enhance social cohesion. In this thesis I consider another use of humour: how humour is used from a powerless position to challenge and reverse unequal power relations in interactions with socially significant others (e.g., shop security guards, airport authorities, police officers).

Finally, I address a more radical and consequential response to discrimination: the concealment of the devalued social identity, most often referred to as ‘passing’. Although often assumed to be a strategy adopted by those exhibiting a low group identification, these data show ‘concealing’ could also be adopted by high identifiers with this being context-dependent. Moreover, although ‘concealing’ is often assumed to be an individualistic strategy of social mobility, these data suggest that it can serve collective social identity concerns as well. For example, concealment of the stigmatized identity may allow individuals to access new experiences which can then be a basis for developing a Roma identity less constrained by outgroup stereotypes of the ingroup. These data entailing insight into participants’ various motivations and intentions involved in applying concealment of the devalued identity contribute to a more nuanced definition and classification of this identity management strategy.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorNick Hopkins (Supervisor) & Lynne Duncan (Supervisor)

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