Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Randa Farah


Roma are one of the world’s most marginalized and exoticized ethnic groups, and they are currently the targets of increasing violence and exclusionary polices in Europe. In Canada, immigration and refugee policies have increasingly dismissed Roma as illegitimate or ‘bogus’ refugee claimants, in large part because they come from ‘safe’ European countries. These policies are reinforced through Canadian media discourse that primarily situates Roma as abusers of the refugee system. This dissertation on Romani identity challenges these demeaning and essentializing representations by focusing on three areas most relevant to Romani identities: first, historical representations; second, the role of media in reinforcing stereotypes; and third, Romani activism that contests popular conceptions surrounding Roma. Based on research and fieldwork, I propose that Canadian policies, stereotyping, and Romani activism produce a seemingly paradoxical phenomenon: on the one hand, they accentuate and sometimes create internal differences, and on the other hand, they demand that the Roma respond with a unified collective voice. The production of these differences and similarities correspond to specific historical and social contexts of Roma in Canada. This dissertation examines these issues by analyzing Romani relationships with institutional organizations (including the refugee determination system) and conflicts over public representations in the media.

This dissertation is based on anthropological approaches, including participant observation and other fieldwork methods with Roma in the Greater Toronto Area from 2009-2013. This work expands on my previous research with Toronto Romani community members beginning in 2007. I conducted interviews with Romani refugee claimants, Romani community members and leaders, service providers, lawyers, journalists, and other people involved in Romani issues and advocacy work. I also conducted archival research on the history of the Roma in Ontario, as well as media discourse analyses of select newspapers in 2012. In addition to qualitative data, I have included statistical analyses of Immigration and Refugee Board data, dating 1996-2012, on Hungarian and Czech acceptance and success rates. This work demonstrates that Romani identities are historical, complex, multi-layered, and ever changing, and that their struggles regarding identities and representations have real life consequences.