This talk will examine the politics of punishment in contemporary Central Europe through a case study of the social construction of Roma crime. It explores how penal politics in the post-socialist period has devolved into a form of penal nationalism, premised on the national criminalization of the other. The political use of Romani crime is a uniting force among these countries. The Roma are presumed to commit most crime; they are thought to reject common national values and norms; and they are said to be most transgressive. They remain the cultural icon of criminality, worthy of their own term in Hungarian, “gypsycriminality” in one word (ciganybunözés). Like other nationalist gestures, the concept of “gypsycriminality” gains power from its mythical nature; this power is made even stronger by restrictions on collecting empirical data on the race/ethnicity of criminal defendants and offenders. In this way, the paper outlines how penal nationalism evokes an extreme politics of exclusion—a politics that treats perceived differences through confinement, while insisting on a hierarchical version of social and cultural inclusion. The political uses of Roma crime thus become a way to explore the form and focus, as well as the preoccupations and anxieties, of penal nationalism in Central Europe.
Lynne Haney, professor of sociology at New York University, has conducted research on the welfare and penal systems in both the U.S. and Eastern Europe. Her most recent book, Offending Women: Power, Punishment, and the Regulation of Desire (California 2010), is a historical ethnography of two California prisons for mothers. She is also the author of Inventing the Needy: Gender and the Politics of Welfare in Hungary (California 2002) and the co-author of The Sociology Project (Pearson 2011) and Global Ethnography: Forces, Connections, and Imaginations in a Postmodern World (California 2000). She is the co-editor of Families of a New World: Gender, Politics, and State Development in a Global Context (Routlege 2003). She is currently completing a book on the politics of punishment in post-socialist Eastern Europe and has begun new research that examines the penal state’s construction of fatherhood through a comparative and historical study of the penalization of child support.
Sponsors: CREES, WCED
Part of the series Pluralism in Politics and Culture, a new initiative jointly sponsored by CREES and WCED that examines the foundations of free and open societies. The project builds on the university’s rich legacy of study and support of the dissident culture in the former Soviet Union and on several existing efforts at U-M. The series focuses on multiple facets of political pluralism, including its legal, cultural, and economic dimensions, and explore them in a broader historical context.
Lynne Haney, professor of sociology, New York University